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Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects a person’s memory and other mental functions. As the nerve cells in the brain lose their ability to function, patients begin to experience impairments to their memory, thinking or other cognitive abilities and experience a decline in the ability to function in daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by debilitating physical changes to brain tissue that leave abnormal clusters of proteins called plaques between the nerve cells. The condition also causes a reduction in the neurotransmitters that nerve cells use to communicate with each other as they direct the body’s activities.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is the progressive decline in cognitive functioning that impairs function in daily activities caused by different diseases that may occur alone or together, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (which also occurs in Parkinson’s disease)
  • Frontotemporal dementia

If someone has dementia, they have trouble with two or more brain functions, such as memory and language. Dementia means thinking or cognitive function progressively is more impaired, which can interfere with a patient’s ability to complete normal every day activities. It most often begins with memory loss. These changes may impact a person’s capacity to control his or her emotions.

There are several stages of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the progressive loss of mental functions and memories as the damage to brain neurons continues. Patients may experience depression and anxiety as they become more aware of their symptoms. In most patients, the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include short-term memory loss that continues to worsen. This is called mild cognitive impairment, meaning the symptoms are severe enough to be detected by objecting testing, but not as severe as the cognitive loss from dementia where activities of daily living are also impaired. At first, a patient’s family may notice small changes in memory and cognitive skills, but these changes do not hamper the person’s ability to complete normal tasks. Over time, these changes begin to make multi-step tasks more difficult. Behavioral changes may also appear, including wandering and sleeplessness.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a result of normal aging, but a specific type of dementia with identifiable causes and associated abnormalities detectable by testing. However, the only way to definitively confirm Alzheimer’s disease is to study affected brain and nerve cells under a microscope. At Indiana University Health, we conduct comprehensive, detailed clinical exams and laboratory and imaging tests before making a probable Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We take extra care in confirming the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, because cognitive impairment can be a side effect of medicines a person is taking or the result of some other disease that needs to be treated, such as hypothyroidism, chronic urinary tract infections or inflammatory diseases.

While there is no treatment that stops the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, we help patients and their families manage symptoms with a variety of therapies, which may temporarily slow the symptomatic progression of the disease.

Our IU Health Neuroscience Center and our close ties to the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Neurology, give patients access to the latest standard therapies and latest investigational research as well as information about treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. We also provide patients and their families social work support, referrals for driving evaluations and referrals for legal questions.

We have extensive experience in determining the cause of dementia and the best ways to manage it. The IU Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias Program provides a comprehensive clinic through the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center using the latest technology for patient evaluation and treatment.

The Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center is a leader in groundbreaking discoveries concerning Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions, including the genetics and biomarkers involved. The second genetic mutation associated with Alzheimer’s disease was discovered at our center and is being used to further research the disease and to test several potential medicines. The Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center directs multidisciplinary research related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the fields of:

  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry
  • Pathology
  • Medicine
  • Molecular genetics
  • Neuroimaging

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment Information

Once a likely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made, we use an integrated approach to treat your symptoms and take steps to preserve your cognitive abilities and independence for as long as possible.

Alzheimer’s Disease Locations & Physicians

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Find a Specialist

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Alzheimer’s Disease Support Services

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease treatments at these websites: