ABOUT ALZHEIMER'S: Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a brain disorder that primarily affects the elderly. Scientists still aren't sure what causes the disease, and there is no cure. It is named after a German doctor, Alois Alzheimer, who noticed (in 1906) anomalies in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of a strange mental illness. There were abnormal clumps (called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers, both of which are the most common signs of Alzheimer's. Other brain changes can occur. Nerve cells die in areas of the brain vital to memory and other mental abilities, and the connections between nerve cells are disrupted, impairing thinking and memory.
SYMPTOMS: Alzheimer's is a slow-moving disease, and in its earliest stages, may merely appear to be mild forgetfulness, and confused with age-related memory change. There may be problems remembering recent events or activities, or the names of familiar people or objects. As the disease progresses, the forgetfulness becomes more severe, interfering with daily activities, such as brushing one's teeth. There are problems speaking, understanding, reading or writing, and eventually the brain damage becomes so severe as to require total care.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.