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An introduction to Alzheimer’s disease

Often people interchange the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, thinking they’re the same. However, Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia and is the most common type, contributing to more than 60% of cases.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive physical disease that affects the brain, as connections between nerve cells in the brain are lost and over time more areas of the brain are damaged. As the disease progresses, more symptoms develop and worsen.

Common Symptoms

There are some common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but no one’s experience will be exactly the same as anyone else’s.

For most people, the first signs of Alzheimer’s are problems with their memory – in particular, difficulties recalling recent events and learning new information. This is because the disease damages the area of the brain where memories are stored, but the person’s memory for events that happened a long time ago is not usually affected in the early stages.

As well as memory difficulties, people with Alzheimer’s are also likely to have – or go on to develop – other problems. These include problems with thinking, reasoning, language or perception such as:

• Speech – they may repeat themselves or struggle to follow a conversation

• Seeing things in three dimensions and judging distances (visuospatial skills)

• Concentrating, planning or organising – they may struggle with making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as dressing)

• Orientation – they may become confused or lose track of the day or date

• Navigation – finding their way may become more difficult

As Alzheimer’s progresses, problems with memory loss, language, reasoning and orientation get much worse.  Many people with Alzheimer’s also start to behave in ways that aren’t normal for them.

These might include being very restless or pacing up and down, calling out, repeating the same question, having disturbed sleep patterns or reacting aggressively.

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