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Special Health Reports

A Guide to Alzheimer's Disease

Dear Reader,

Did you ever stride purposefully into a room, stand in one spot, and then wonder what you'd intended to do? Lose your house keys or forget where you parked the car? Relax. Occasional memory slips are natural.

Perhaps, though, memory problems are piling up in ways that affect daily life. Or maybe your concerns go beyond forgetfulness. Do you find yourself struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word, becoming confused in new places, or botching tasks that once came easily? Everyone has these experiences sometimes, but if they frequently happen to you or someone you love, they may be early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

This condition strikes fear into people's hearts, with good reason. It is the leading cause of dementia, a brain disorder that robs people of the ability to think, learn, and remember, and, eventually, of their very selves. About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and estimates suggest it will affect 7.7 million by 2030. Already, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There is no cure, and available treatments alleviate symptoms temporarily at best.

Better times may be coming. Many new drugs are under investigation. New research is turning up evidence of very early signs of Alzheimer's, offering possible targets for new treatments that could alter the disease's course before more flagrant symptoms appear. And diagnostic guidelines published in 2011 by the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association aim to help researchers move closer to early detection and intervention.

Meanwhile, caring for someone with Alzheimer's continues to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. It is stressful, physically and emotionally draining, and very expensive, as almost 15 million unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias can attest.

Because the disease is progressive, coping with it requires foresight and careful advance planning. People in the early stages of Alzheimer's often can be partners in that planning, and this comprehensive report can guide you, as well. In it, you'll find hope for people who are struggling with Alzheimer's and practical help for caregivers.

With forethought, patience, knowledge, and support, you can better meet the challenges posed by this disease and improve the quality of your life and that of your loved ones.


John H. Growdon, M.D.
Medical Editor



888-687-2277 (toll-free)

The Web site has abundant information on caregiving, adult day care, nursing homes, in-home care, and more. An online caregivers group offers support and tips from people facing similar challenges.

Administration on Aging
Eldercare locator: 800-677-1116 (toll-free)

This agency provides extensive listings of national and regional resources and services for older persons. Includes a toll-free Eldercare Locator to assist in finding services.

Alzheimer's Association
800-272-3900 (24-hour toll-free helpline for information, referrals, and support)

The association funds research and provides educational material, counseling, referral services, and emotional support to assist caregivers. Local chapters organize community-based services such as support groups, day care centers, and case management.

Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR)
800-438-4380 (toll-free)

ADEAR provides up-to-date information on research (including clinical trials recruiting participants), treatments, the national network of Alzheimer's Disease Centers, and other resources.


The Alzheimer's Action Plan: The Expert's Guide to the Best Diagnosis and Treatment for Memory Problems
P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., Lisa P. Gwyther, M.S.W., and Tina Adler
(St. Martin's Press, 2009)

Written by a leading Alzheimer's researcher and a founder of the Alzheimer's Association, this book features a patient-oriented approach to treatment of the disease.

A Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's Disease: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier
Patricia R. Callone, M.A., M.R.E., Connie Kudlacek, B.S., Barbara C. Vasiloff, M.A., Janaan Manternach, D.Min., and Roger A. Brumback, M.D.
(Demos Medical Publishing, 2005)

Written by members of the Alzheimer's Association Midlands Chapter, this book offers practical information for patients, caregivers, and families on Alzheimer's disease, including the medical, legal, and financial issues.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer's Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life
Nancy L. Mace, M.A., and Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006)

A revised edition of a classic handbook for caregivers, this comprehensive guide discusses causes and management of Alzheimer's disease. A section is devoted to finding living arrangements when home care is no longer possible.

Author: Harvard Health Publications
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2011
Date Last Modified: 9/23/2013
Copyright Harvard Health Publications