National Alzheimer's Council

The National Alzheimer's Council is dedicated to the dissemination of information about progress in understanding and moderating the causes and effects of Alzheimer disease on individuals, their families, and friends. This is accomplished through applied research and education.

What is Alzheimer disease?

Alzheimer disease, or Alzheimer's as it is also referred to (pronounced Alz'- hi-merz), is the leading cause of dementia. Named after the person who first described it, Alzheimer disease may be defined as a set of symptoms that include loss of memory, judgement, reasoning ability, and often changes in mood and behavior.

Two forms of Alzheimer disease:

There are two forms of Alzheimer disease identified by researchers:

  1. Sporadic Alzheimer disease and
  2. Familial autosomal dominant Alzheimer disease.

Sporadic Alzheimer disease is the more common of the two forms, accounting for 90-95% of cases. People who have this form of Alzheimer disease may or may not have a family history of the disorder, but if they have had relatives with Alzheimer disease they have a greater chance of developing it themselves. The other known risk factor for developing this form of the disease is advancing age. The older you get, the better your chances of developing it.

Familial autosomal dominant Alzheimer disease is clearly passed from one generation to the next. In families who have the disease with an affected parent, each child has a fifty percent chance of developing it. There is a genetic test available for those people who have this form of Alzheimer disease, so those with a family history that can be traced over several generations, where family members who are affected show a similar age of onset and duration of the disease, can be tested. This form of the disease is fairly rare, however, accounting for only five to ten percent of cases of Alzheimer disease.

How Alzheimer's affects a person:

Alzheimer disease affects a person's ability to think, understand, reason, remember, and communicate. Many of the changes that occur early are so subtle you may not notice them or think they are remarkable. But gradually, you will notice that someone seems unable to learn new things or make decisions. He or she will forget how to do tasks they've performed for years.

Difficulty with people's names is common. The person with Alzheimer disease may forget where she is, what she was supposed to be doing, or may not understand what is being said. Eventually, these difficulties increase until the past is forgotten. One of the most commonly used scales for determining the progression of Alzheimer disease is the Global Deterioration Scale. It was developed by Dr. Barry Reisbery, MD, clinical director of the Aging and Dementia Research Center at New York University. The scale looks like this:

  • Stage I:
    No cognitive decline. A normal adult.
  • Stage II:
    Very mild cognitive decline (forgetfulness). Forgetfulness associated with normal aging; memory lapses, not losses.
  • Stage III:
    Mild cognitive decline (early confusional). Loss of concentration, unable to remember names and words, misplace items of value, get lost in familiar surroundings.
  • Stage IV:
    Moderate cognitive decline (late confusional). Inability to remember parts of personal history, decreased knowledge of current events, sense something is wrong.
  • Stage V:
    Moderately severe. Total loss of short-term memory, some disorientation as to time, day or place, may have difficulty choosing proper clothing to wear.
  • Stage VI:
    Severe cognitive decline (middle dementia). May forget name of spouse, unaware of recent events and experiences, needs assistance with some daily living activities.
  • Stage VII:
    Very severe (late dementia). All verbal abilities are lost, limited or no speech, needs assistance with toileting and feeding, brain unable to tell body what to do.


The progression of Alzheimer disease is highly variable, so it's very difficult to predict when or whether a certain person will progress to the more advanced stages of the disease. Most people will live for about eight years after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease, so getting properly diagnosed is extremely important in helping the family prepare for what may come.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer's?

At the present time, Alzheimer's cannot be cured or stopped. Much of today's research, however, is focused on the question of whether Alzheimer disease can be prevented. There is growing hope that changes in lifestyle, diet, exercise, and the use of alternative or complimentary treatments such as vitamins and herbs may make a difference.

Following are some of the educational materials developed and disseminated by the Council:

Alzheimer's - Hope Through Education

In an effort to produce a succinct, readable collection of information on Alzheimer's, including the latest research about promising interventions, the National Alzheimer's Council has published Alzheimer's - Hope Through Education. This short book is filled with important information that could make a difference in your life, or the life of someone you love.

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Keeping Your Brain Healthy!

Dememtia is very poorly understood, and very much feared by the general population. This information-packed pocket guide provides an overview of dementia with an emphasis on Alzheimer disease. It includes symptoms and risk factors. Importantly, it suggests things to try to keep the brain healthy as well as important questions to ask one's doctor.

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