Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s ability to remember, think, learn, and carry out even the simplest of tasks. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, a broad term for diseases and conditions that damage brain cells and, over time, impair brain function. Alzheimer’s causes once-healthy brain cells, or neurons, to lose their ability to function and communicate with each other. Eventually, they die.
Typically diagnosed in people age 60 and older, in extremely rare cases the disease occurs in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease typically include memory loss or other cognitive problems, such as trouble with language or decision-making. As cognition continues to decline, people may experience disturbing changes in personality and behavior. In the final stage of Alzheimer’s dementia, people lose the ability to recognize family and friends and become totally dependent on others for daily care. Ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease is a terminal illness.
Research shows that Alzheimer’s causes changes in the brain years and even decades before the first symptoms appear, so even those who seem free of the disease today may be at risk. The fight against Alzheimer’s is urgent because, without new ways to prevent or more effectively treat this age-related disease, it will become increasingly prevalent in our aging population.
This new course from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focuses on research findings reported and projects funded in 2011 and the first half of 2012. These highlights, prepared by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), the lead institute within NIH for Alzheimer’s research, covers work by an active scientific community. This work aims to elucidate the basic mechanisms and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease, and then apply this knowledge to the development and testing of new interventions to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
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