What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70% of all people with dementia. Almost 70,000 Kiwis are living with dementia today. Almost 170,000, Kiwis are likely to be living with dementia by 2050.1,2 Alzheimer’s is a physical brain disease characterised by the impairment of brain functions such as impaired memory, language, thinking and behaviour. It is a progressive disease caused by the gradual degeneration of brain cells. Alzheimer’s disease can broadly be categorised into two areas:2
- Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease can affect adults at any age but occurs most often after age 65. This is the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease and affects people who may or may not have a family history of the disease.
- Familial Alzheimer’s disease is a much less common form in which the disease is passed directly from one generation to another. This can develop at an earlier age, usually in a persons 40’s or 50’s.
Causes of Alzheimer’s disease
- Hereditary – Having a family history (first degree relative) of Alzheimer’s disease means you are more likely to develop the disease compared to those with no history.
- Genetics – Certain gene variants have been shown to increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease e.g. APOE-e4.
- Age – Advanced age is the largest risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease with the chance of developing the condition doubling every 5 years after the age of 65.
- Mild Cognitive Impairment – MCI can be an earlier stage of Alzheimer’s disease and causes changes in the ability to think however unlike mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease, does not affect day to day tasks. Having MCI is linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Read more on the differences between MCI and Mild Alzheimer’s disease here.
- Other conditions – Having other conditions like cardiovascular disease or traumatic brain injury may also be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
What happens to the brain during Alzheimer’s disease?
- Dementia Australia 2021, ‘Dementia statistics’, viewed 11th November 2021, https://www.dementia.org.au/statistics
- Dementia Australia 2021, ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ Alzheimer’s disease | Dementia Australia
- Alzheimer’s Association 2020, ‘ Risk factors for Alzheimer’s’, viewed 11th November 2021, https://www.alz.org/au/dementia-alzheimers-australia.asp