Alzheimer’s disease: what it is and who it can affect

An estimated 5.8 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019, and this number is growing fast. Despite its huge and growing numbers, many people are still unfamiliar with the disease or confuse it with age-related dementia. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, but dementia is not. Alzheimer’s is actually the most common cause of dementia, which generally describes symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills that can interfere with daily life. 

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. It’s a progressive disease caused by changes in the brain including atrophy, inflammation and vascular damage. Early detection is important for Alzheimer’s – if you are concerned that you are a loved one is displaying early signs of the disease, use the Alzheimer’s Association symptom checklist to and reach out to your doctor. 

Here are a few more facts about Alzheimer’s:

  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Approximately 200,000 people under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is usually due to a genetic mutation.
  • Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk for developing the disease due to the accumulation  of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to impaired brain function.
  • This amyloid also increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s for people with Down syndrome.
  • By 2050, the total number of people requiring care for Alzheimer’s will triple.

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association are working with researchers to learn more about the disease through new tests and diagnostic tools in the hopes of someday finding a cure. 

Additionally, data scientists are tapping into the vast Alzheimer’s database to try to turn big data into actionable knowledge. The first Alzheimer’s Disease Big Data DREAM Challenge launched in 2014 to encourage these scientists to use open source data to identify new Alzheimer’s biomarkers and create advanced diagnostic technology.

In the meantime, technologies like smart homes, gps tracking devices, and medication management apps may help people with Alzheimer’s live more independently, and they may relieve some of the burden on their caretakers.