What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s disease affects around 20 per cent of people in Australia who are 85 or older. But what is Alzheimer’s disease, what are the symptoms, and can it be cured?

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. In Australia about 50 to 70 per cent of those living with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s).

We don’t understand in much detail what causes Alzheimer’s. To some extent, it can run in families, although this is more likely for early onset dementia (developed before age 55).

Alzheimer’s is more likely as you get older. About one in every 10 people aged 65 and over in Australia have Alzheimer’s. This rises to around 2 out of every 10 by age 85. More women have it than men, but that’s because they generally live longer so there are more women at older ages.

Alzheimer’s disease causes the nerve cells in the brain, which are essential for language and physical movement, to weaken and die. These nerve cells can’t be repaired or replaced, so the damage cannot be reversed. Read more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia here.

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Information about Alzheimer's symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease usually starts with forgetfulness, problems with working things out and difficulty finding the right words. You may also notice changes in your loved one’s mood. 
 
As the disease progresses, the memory loss becomes worse and people have difficulty learning new skills and information. You may notice your loved one says or does things that are out of character. They may also struggle with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, washing, cooking, travelling and handling money. 
 
Disorientation is also common, and this can cause people with Alzheimer’s disease to lose their sense of time and place. For example, they may get dressed in the middle of the night, thinking that it is morning. New surroundings may be confusing and it could become more difficult for people to recognise family members and friends. 
 
Keep an eye out for early changes which may include: 
  • becoming confused about times or dates
  • forgetting names of people and places
  • difficulty finding words for things
  • not remembering recent events
  • forgetting appointments.
Find out more about the signs of dementia here.
Elderly woman shopping

Where can I find information about Alzheimer’s disease treatments and cures? 

There is a lot of global research on developing treatments to delay, cure and prevent Alzheimer’s. Scientists are learning new information about Alzheimer’s every week – you can find some of the latest Alzheimer’s research here.
 
Currently there is no cure for dementia (including Alzheimer’s), although some prescribed medications help manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and may slow down the rate of decline for a while. 

Caring for a person who is ageing or experiencing the early signs of dementia can be really tough, physically and emotionally. 
 
If you want to talk to a real person who can help guide you and connect you with the right support, contact the Bupa Aged Care Support Line on 1800 780 038. It’s free and available to everyone - not just Bupa members.
 
The team of health care professionals can help with your questions about dementia, aged care homes, paying for care, and can connect you with other services.   
 
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