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Alzheimer’s disease

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Key Facts

  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia;
  • AD is characterized by a progressive decline in brain function, which typically begins with deterioration in memory;
  • Incidence of AD increases significantly with age;
  • There is currently no cure for AD. However, drug treatments are available that can temporarily alleviate some symptoms or slow down their progression in some people.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, causing about half of all cases. In AD the brain begins to shrink (atrophy) and the number of nerve fibres in the brain gradually reduces. Levels of some neurotransmitters (brain messengers) are also reduced – in particular, acetylcholine. Tiny deposits called plaques also form throughout the brain. It is not known why these changes in the brain occur, or exactly how they cause dementia. Alzheimer’s disease gradually gets more severe over time as the brain becomes increasingly affected.

The scale of the problem

The incidence of AD increases with age. In 2001, there was an estimated 4.9 million people affected by AD in Europe, which was estimated to double by 2040. Worldwide it is thought that there are more than 15 million people affected by AD.

Alzheimers fact sheet – PDF