Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that affect different brain functions, including memory. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over 65. But, people under 65 can also develop it.

Alzheimer’s affects slightly more women than men.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition. This means the symptoms develop gradually and become more severe over time.

The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is usually minor memory problems. For example, a loss of interest and enjoyment in day-to-day activities. It’s also common to forget about recent conversations, events or the names of places.

As the condition develops, memory problems become more severe.

Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Other changes caused by Alzheimer’s disease that could cause you concern include:

  • confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places
  • difficulty planning or making decisions
  • problems with speech and language
  • problems moving around without help
  • difficulty performing self-care tasks
  • stress and distress
  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • delusions (believing things that are untrue)
  • low mood or anxiety

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the build up of amyloid and tau. These are substances found inside the brain.

Amyloid and tau build up and form tiny structures called plaques and tangles. These make it harder for the brain to work properly.

Over time, Alzheimer’s disease causes parts of the brain to get smaller. It also reduces chemicals in the brain that are used to send messages around the brain.

Eventually, the brain struggles to cope with the damage. This can lead to problems with memory and thinking.

Over time, damage also spreads to different areas of the brain. The first areas affected are the ones that are responsible for memories.

Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. But, many things could increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • increasing age
  • having had a severe head injury in the past
  • in very rare cases, a family history of the condition

When to speak to a healthcare professional

If you’re worried about your memory or think you may have dementia, you should speak to your GP.

If you’re worried about someone else, you should encourage them to make an appointment at their GP practice. You could suggest that you’ll go with them.

More advice if you’re worried about dementia

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Memory problems are not only caused by dementia. They can also be caused by depression, stress, medications or other health problems.

Your GP can carry out some simple checks to try to find out what the cause may be. They can refer you to a specialist for more tests, if necessary.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But, there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. Your GP or healthcare professional can discuss the best treatment options for you.

There are things you can do to live well for as long as possible with dementia.

Read more about living well with dementia

Your future health and social care needs will need to be assessed and a care plan drawn up.

This is a way of ensuring you receive the right treatment for your needs. It involves identifying areas where you may need some help, like:

  • what support you or your carer need for you to remain as independent as possible
  • whether there are any changes that need to be made to your home to make it easier to live in
  • whether you need any financial assistance

Last updated:
27 May 2024

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