Answers to Commonly Asked Questions about Alzheimer’s disease

Does Alzheimer’s disease occur in younger adults?

Alzheimer’s disease has been detected across the adult life span.  However, the type of Alzheimer’s disease that occurs in adults in their 30’s to 50’s is a rare form often referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease or familial Alzheimer’s disease.  This rare familial Alzheimer’s has a strong genetic link to the presenelin (PSEN) 1 and 2 genes, as well as amyloid precursor protein (APP).  The form of Alzheimer’s disease typically referred to as late-onset Alzheimer’s typically occurs in adults 65 years old or older. 


What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Researchers continue to unravel new information on what causes the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  There is a strong association between age, gender, genetics, other medical conditions (such as inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and previous head injury), and lifestyle and environmental factors.  The strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, and the gene with the strongest association to the development of Alzheiemr’s disease is ApoE.

My family member has Alzheimer’s disease.  Am I at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s also?

Alzheimer’s disease is divided into two types:

  • early-onset, familial Alzheimer’s (very rare)
  • late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (more common)

The early-onset Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases.  This rare form of Alzheimer’s appears to be inherited via the Presenelin (PSS) 1 and 2 genes and …..  Familial Alzheimer’s disease has been detected in adults as young as……

The late-onset Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 95% of all Alzheimer’s disease cases.  The development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is more sporadic in nature.  The gene most strongly linked to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is Apolipoprotein E (ApoE).  Individuals carrying one copy of the ApoE-e4 gene (e2/e4 or e3/e4 genotype) are ____ times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease by age 85, and individuals with two copies of the ApoE-e4 gene (e4/e4 genotype) are 12 times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease by age 85.  However, not everyone who develops late-onset Alzheimer’s disease carries a copy of the ApoE-e4 variant and not everyone who carries at least one copy of the ApoE-4e variant will develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Does gender make a difference in the risk for developing Alzheimer’s? If so, do men or women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease develops in both men and women.  However, statistically speaking about 66% of all Alzheimer’s disease cases develop in women.  The specific reason for this gender difference has not been determined, but researchers believe it is most likely because women generally live longer than men.

In addition to women accounting for more of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease, women are also the primary caregivers for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

While Alzheimer’s disease progresses over time, the specific symptoms and rate of disease progression is different for different people.  The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may include:

  • short-term memory loss (most common)
  • confusion
  • anxiety and agitation
  • difficulty with speech, especially finding the right word
  • difficulty with activities of daily living, such as using the restroom and eating
  • loss of appetite and difficult swallowing
  • difficulty recognizing people and common objects
  • night-time insomnia (sundowning)
  • wandering or pacing
  • loss of bowel and bladder control
  • difficulty swallowing.

My doctor diagnosed me with Alzheimer’s disease.  How do doctors determine if it is Alzheimer’s disease?

The definitive diagnosis for determining the type of dementia the patient has is a post-mortem brain autopsy.  This can be very helpful for the family after their loved one hast passed, as it provides valuable family health history information and can provide closure.

However, there currently is not a single test available to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease while the patient is alive.  An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is usually based off of findings of multiple evaluative methods.  A healthcare provider will gather the patient’s health history and family health history, and then conduct a physical exam.  If they suspect cognitive impairment, then additional testing may be conducted, including: mental status assessment, neurological assessment, blood tests, urine analysis, electrocardiogram, and possibly even imaging (MRI or CT).  Sometimes a physician will request cerebrospinal fluid be drawn also. 

Can memory loss and other symptoms be something other than Alzheimer’s disease?

There are many other health conditions that can cause symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease. When a person begins to experience recognizable memory loss or other dementia-like symptoms, it is important to see a physician for an evaluation promptly because some of the conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s are treatable and some even are reversible. 

Medical conditions with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease include Vitamin B deficiency, dehydration, medication side-effects or reaction, and depression.  Many people are reluctant to visit their healthcare provider when they recognize symptoms of memory loss, because they are afraid to find out the diagnosis.  However, the sooner a healthcare provider can evaluate the patient, the better the chance for managing symptoms.

15. How long do people with Alzheimer’s disease live after developing the disease?
Every case is different, and progression of the disease varies from person to person. On average, from onset of symptoms, people with Alzheimer’s disease can live from 8 years (the average) up to 20 years.  

How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?

Currently there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  However, scientific research shows promise for some lifestyle interventions slowing the progression of the disease.  There is a strong association between regular exercise and slowed progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  Also, research shows dietary interventions, sleep hygiene, meditation, socialization, and ongoing brain engagement may be beneficial for brain health.

Also, there are some medications that may help delay the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms, including donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Reminyl). Helping manage behavioral symptoms especially can improve quality of life for the patient with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregiver.