Alzheimer's Disease | Dementia

MaineHealth provides compassionate care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, their families and caregivers. Early treatment may slow the progress of the disease and improve symptoms and quality of life. Doctors and specialists can help identify memory problems early and recommend treatment options.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Dementia is cognitive impairment that affects memory, language, attention, perception, and decision-making. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease gets worse over time. Alzheimer's disease affects more than memory: it also affects how well people can speak, think, interact, and do normal activities. The earliest symptom of Alzheimer's disease usually is memory loss. Some short-term memory loss is normal for people as they age.

Alzheimer's disease symptoms

Call your primary care provider if you or a loved one is having memory problems. It's a good idea for a patient to bring a family member to the appointment. The family member may see symptoms that the patient does not notice.Memory loss for people with Alzheimer’s disease is more than just normal forgetfulness. Other symptoms include:

  • Changes to personality, thinking and behavior
  • Problems doing simple tasks
  • Slower ability to learn things
  • Delayed reactions
  • Speaking and conversation is slower
  • Mood swings, depression
  • Problems recognizing family and friends
  • Trouble dressing
  • Trouble with reading, writing and numbers

Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease and dementia

The only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s dementia is by evaluating brain tissue, so it is usually diagnosed based on a doctor’s clinical assessment and after ruling out other health problems as a cause for symptoms. The patient will be asked about medical history and have a physical exam. The doctor also will ask the patient to do some simple tasks to check brain function. Your doctor also may order tests to rule out other causes:

  • Blood tests
  • Brain imaging
  • Lumbar puncture
  • EEG
  • PET scan

Who's at risk for Alzheimer's disease?

The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is aging. Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease are 65 or older. Early onset Alzheimer's disease affects people in their 40s and 50s. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of Alzheimer's disease
  • Having Down syndrome
  • Brain injuries (from sports or car accidents, for example)
  • Other diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension

Alzheimer's disease treatment

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, though some medications can help with memory and thinking. There also is help and resources for people with Alzheimer’s disease, family members and other caregivers.