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Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal brain disease. It is the most common cause of dementia among older adults in the United States. Although Alzheimer’s disease most often affects people older than 65, about one in 20 people with the disease develop it before they are 65. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
With Alzheimer’s disease, destructive changes in the brain develop slowly over time and disrupt connections between brain cells, which causes brain cells to die. These changes occur throughout the brain and result in a steady decline in mental function, starting with memory loss.
If you or someone you know is showing Alzheimer’s symptoms or is living with Alzheimer’s disease in Las Vegas or Henderson, NV, the doctors who practice at Dignity Health - St. Rose Dominican hospitals are here to provide care, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. To learn more, find a neurologist who can help.
There are three stages to Alzheimer’s disease: mild (early stage), moderate (middle stage), and severe (late stage). The symptoms can be easy to miss early on, but as the disease progresses the signs and symptoms become more obvious. They may include:
A genetic defect passed down through families (inherited) causes the early-onset form, which affects only a small percentage of people with the disease. Exactly how this defect causes the changes seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s is not fully understood.
No definite cause has been found for late-onset Alzheimer’s, which is the most common type. There is a link to a specific genetic defect (different than the one in early-onset), but not everyone with the defect goes on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
If you have a close relative with the disease, you have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Also, most people with Down syndrome, a birth defect caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21, develop Alzheimer’s as adults. That’s because a key gene linked to Alzheimer’s called APP is located on chromosome 21.
Beyond genetic factors, research suggests there are health and environmental risk factors for Alzheimer’s. These include:
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and helping improve quality of life for as long as possible. Some medications, such as donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda), may help slow down memory loss and confusion. Doctors may also prescribe other types of medications, including sedatives to relieve anxiety or insomnia.
Although experts have not found definite ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, many believe that regular exercise, staying active socially, and eating a healthy diet may help reduce the risk or slow the onset of the disease.