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Facts from the Alzheimer's Research Trust

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a type of dementia, which means a deterioration of in mental functions (memory, language, orientation and judgement). 
  • AD affects over 500,000 people in the UK, and is most common in people over 65 years old. There are an average of 60,000 new cases of AD each year in the UK, and this number is expected to increase to around 100,000 by the year 2040. 
  • The disease begins gradually, causing a person to forget recent events and have difficulty with familiar tasks. As it progresses there may be changes in behaviour and difficulties in communication. In the final stages, sufferers are extremely disorientated and often completely unable to care for themselves. 
  • AD is caused by the progressive loss of nerve cells in regions of the brain responsible for memory. The loss can be so dramatic that the brain ‘shrinks’ and brain scans will reveal gaps in the brain tissue. 
  • It is not known what triggers these changes, although genes have been identified that affect the risk of developing the disease. 
  • Other potentially protective factors are currently being investigated. These include the female hormone oestrogen, and elements in the diet such as vitamin E and folic acid. 

  • Around 80% of people with AD live at home, and are cared for by their relatives: about half of the carers for people with AD are themselves over 70 years old. 
  • There are no simple tests for AD; the diagnosis is usually arrived at by a process of elimination. 
  • AD is present in 5% of people over 65 and 25-30% of people over 85. 
  • There are currently two drugs available on prescription for people with AD (donepezil and rivastigmine). These provide symptomatic relief for people in the mild to moderate stages of the disease. 
  • Other drugs are currently in clinical trials, and further research is being conducted into gingko biloba and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It is possible that a protective vaccine for AD may be developed within the next ten years.  

We are indebted to the Alzheimer's Research Trust for providing the content for this section