Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery

Introduction

"Never have I loved my husband of 41 years more than I do today....Though he may not know I’m his wife, he does know that my presence means his favorite foods and drinks are near at hand....I wonder why I can sit daily by his side as I play tapes, relate bits and pieces of news, hold his hand, tell him I love him. Yet I am content when I am with him, though I grieve for the loss of his smile, the sound of my name on his lips."

This excerpt from Lessons Learned: Shared Experiences in Coping, by participants of the Duke University Alzheimer Support Groups, gives a glimpse into what a person with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and a family caregiver might experience as the disease progresses. The gradual slipping away of mind and memory is frightening and frustrating, both for the person with the disease and for family and friends, and can elicit strong feelings of love, grief, anger, and exhaustion.

AD is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with AD, symptoms first appear after age 60. AD is caused by a disease that affects the brain. In the absence of disease, the human brain often can function well into the 10th decade of life.

Not so long ago, we were not able to do much for people with AD. Today, that situation is changing. Thousands of scientists, voluntary organizations, and health care professionals are studying AD so that they can find ways to manage, treat, and one day prevent this terrible disease.

Publication Date: September 2008
Page Last Updated: December 22, 2011