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Alzheimer's Disease FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:What are symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

A:Memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks and poor or decreased judgment. A key symptom of Alzheimer's disease (AD) includes memory loss. Other symptoms and warning signs can include: difficulty performing familiar tasks; disorientation to time and place; poor or decreased judgment; problems with thinking and language; misplacing things, and/or changes in mood, behavior, or personality.

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Q:All cases of Alzheimer's disease worsen over time. True or False?

A:True. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease, which means that it worsens over time. During the progressive course of Alzheimer's disease, patients lose their abilities to think, reason, and judge clearly. This cognitive (mental) impairment will likely affect problem solving, language, personality, and behavior.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease is a normal part of aging. True or False?

A:False. Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease that is not a normal part of aging. While some forms of memory loss are normal with advancing age, most forms are not severe enough to interfere with daily functioning and reasoning as seen with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease differs from normal age-related memory loss by impairing memory first. Disturbances in reasoning, planning, language, and perception later result.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia. True or False?

A:True. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is medically defined as "a collection of symptoms that include decreased intellectual functioning which interferes with normal life functions." Other types of dementia include multi-infarct dementia (dementia resulting from a series of small strokes), Lewy body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and rare hereditary dementias, among others.

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Q:A person who has lost cognitive abilities is often referred to as what?

A:Senile. A person who has lost cognitive abilities is often referred to as senile. The term "senile" often refers to dementia associated with advanced age.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease can resemble the early stages of what similar condition?

A:Parkinson's disease. Alzheimer's disease can resemble the early stages of Parkinson's disease. This is because dementia is a key symptom observed in both diseases.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed by a blood test. True or False?

A:False. There is no specific blood or imaging test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is mainly diagnosed through a process of elimination. Before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made, doctors may consider a patient's medical history; perform mental, physical and/or neurological exams; and conduct other tests. However, a patient must meet the following criteria in order to diagnose Alzheimer's disease: dementia must be present in the patient; cognitive decline is consistent with Alzheimer's disease; there is no other explanation for the patient's dementia.

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Q:When can a definite diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease be made?

A:After the death of the patient. A definite diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease cannot be made until after the death of the patient when doctors can closely examine the brain for microscopic changes caused by the disease.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease can be cured if detected early. True or False?

A:False. There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease regardless of when it is detected. Some drugs are available which may help slow the worsening of Alzheimer's symptoms for a limited time. Still, active medical management may improve the quality of life for both patients and caregivers.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease is considered a terminal illness. True or False?

A:True. A terminal illness is one that ultimately leads to death. Alzheimer's is considered a terminal illness. With Alzheimer's disease, the cause of death is usually a physical illness that debilitates a person who is already weakened by the combined effects of advanced age and Alzheimer's.

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Q:What is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease?

A:Increased age. Age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease doubles every 5 to 5.5 years between the ages of 65 to 85 years of age. According to the CDC, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. This figure has doubled since 1980 and is expected to reach 16 million by 2050.

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Q:Alzheimer's disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. True or False?

A:True. Alzheimer's disease is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. Specifically, Alzheimer's disease as a cause of death ranks 6th among American adults and 5th among adults over the age of 65.

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