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Alzheimer's disease (AD), also called Alzheimer disease, Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (SDAT) or simply Alzheimer's, is the most common form of dementia. This incurable, degenerative, and terminal disease was first described by German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Generally it is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer's can occur much earlier. An estimated 26.6 million people worldwide had Alzheimer's in 2006; this number may quadruple by 2050.
Although each sufferer experiences Alzheimer's in a unique way, there are many common symptoms. The earliest observable symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be 'age-related' concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most commonly recognised symptom is memory loss, such as difficulty in remembering recently learned facts. When a doctor or physician has been notified, and AD is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with behavioural assessments and cognitive tests, often followed by a brain scan if available.
As the disease advances, symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal of the sufferer as their senses decline. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death.
Individual prognosis is difficult to assess, as the duration of the disease varies. AD develops for an indeterminate period of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years. Fewer than three percent of individuals live more than fourteen years after diagnosis.
Research for a Cure
As of 2008, the safety and efficacy of more than 400 pharmaceutical treatments are being investigated in clinical trials worldwide, and approximately one-fourth of these compounds are in Phase III trials, which is the last step prior to review by regulatory agencies.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. The drugs used to treat the disease work to slow the progression of symptoms. Aricept works by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical used by the brain for memory and thinking. But studies have shown that the benefits of this treatment are short lived; by 18 months, patients who received Aricept had the same rate of progression to Alzheimer's disease as those who received a placebo.
Aricept is one many drugs used to treat Alzheimer's disease. It and medications such as Reminyl and Exelon are called cholinesterase inhibitors. In various studies, these drugs have shown small to modest improvements in memory and thinking skills in people with AD.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Some CAM treatments for Alzheimer's are:
Omega-3 fatty acids