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alzheimer’s disease main features

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting around 500,000 people in the UK, and accounts for approximately 55% of all cases of dementia (Alzheimer’s Society 2006b). First described by the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, it is a physical disease affecting the brain, which is irreversible.

The changes result from ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’, which develop in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells. The process begins in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with short-term memory. People with Alzheimer’s have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain that are involved with the transmission of messages within the brain.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, the symptoms become more severe. The features of Alzheimer’s include memory impairment, confusion and difficulty making decisions. At first, the changes may appear to be subtle but, even so, often cause concern for the individual. Other features include mood changes and social withdrawal, which could be associated with coming to terms with the initial features. As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s will need more support from those who care for them. This support should empower the individual to make decisions and choices as well as to ensure they are safe and cared for; eventually they will need help with all aspects of daily living.

Although there are some common features of Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to remember that everyone is different. No two people with Alzheimer’s will experience the disease in the same way, and all will need support that meets their own personal and cultural needs.

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