Alzheimer's disease or Alzheimer's-type dementia is a progressive degeneration of brain tissue that primarily strikes people over age 65. It is the most common cause of dementia and is marked by a devastating mental decline. Intellectual functions such as memory, comprehension, and speech deteriorate.
Attention tends to stray, simple calculations become impossible, and ordinary daily activities grow increasingly difficult, with bewilderment and frustration. These symptoms tend to worsen at night. Dramatic mood swings occur -- outbursts of anger, bouts of fearfulness, and periods of deep apathy. The sufferer, increasingly disoriented, may wander off and become lost. Physical problems, such as an odd gait or a loss of coordination, gradually develop. Eventually, the patient may become physically helpless, incontinent, and unable to communicate entirely.
Alzheimer's disease can run its course from onset to death in just a few years, or it may play out over a period of as long as 20 years. More often, however, people suffer with Alzheimer's disease for about nine years. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. One person out of eight age 65 and over has the disease. Women are more susceptible than men and half of all nursing home residents suffer from Alzheimer's or related disorders.
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