Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Unless the disease can be effectively treated or prevented, the number of people with it will increase significantly if current population trends continue. That is because the risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age, and the U.S. population is aging. The number of people with Alzheimer's doubles every 5-year interval beyond age 65.

Alzheimer's is a neurological disease with no known cause or cure. Two of the most common causes of dementia in older people are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, which is caused by a series of strokes or changes in the brain's blood supply.The number of severe dementia victims is expected to reach 13.8 million by 2050.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia.

Diagnosis

There is no single test that can show whether a person has Alzheimer's. While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. Experts estimate a skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer's with 90 percent accuracy using careful medical evaluations, including a thorough medical history, mental status testing, a physical and neurological exam, and tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.

Having trouble with memory does not mean you have Alzheimer's. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking. When dementia-like symptoms are caused by treatable conditions — such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies — they may be reversed.

Audience: Patients

Written by Tim Cooke — April 22, 2014

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