What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.” The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who, in 1906, noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died due to an unusual mental illness. The woman’s symptoms included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. Upon her death, Dr. Alzheimer examined her brain and found amyloid plaques, or abnormal clumps, and neurofibrillary tangles, or tau.

The plaques and tangles are some of the main features of Alzheimer disease. The loss of connections between nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain is another feature, along with many other complex brain changes. It appears that the initial damage to the brain from the plaques, tangles, and loss of connection between nerve cells takes place in the part of the brain that is essential in forming memories. Additional parts of the brain are affected as the neurons die and, by the final stages of the disease, the damage is widespread and brain tissue has shrunk.

Are you looking for information and resources for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease? Our information specialists have put together a quick go-to list:

  1. The NARIC Collection has numerous articles from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere that speak on different aspects of research on Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. NIA’s Alzheimer and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center offers information and publications about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. NIA also provides information in Spanish about Alzheimer’s disease.
  3. The Alzheimer’s Association provides education and resources for families and professionals, information on local programs and services, and more, along with a 24/7 helpline: 800/272-3900.
  4. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America provides information and resources on various topics including caregiving and healthy aging. They also provide training and education for professionals and a toll-free helpline: 866/232-8484.

Please note: These resources are provided for information purposes only, and not for diagnosis or recommendations of treatment. Please consult with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your health status.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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