The majority of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. There are other types of dementia — such as vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia — but Alzheimer's is the most common and the one you have probably heard the most about.
Like other forms of dementia, Alzheimer's disease involves an impairment of a person's mental abilities that disrupts their daily life. It always involves memory loss, but also may affect other faculties, such as speech, reasoning and judgement, and the ability to perform high-level or tasks, such as using the telephone or maintaining personal hygiene. While there are some dementia symptoms that Alzheimer's shares with other types of dementia, there are some characteristics that make Alzheimer's disease unique, and these distinctions are important to know if a person you care for has the condition. It's also important to be familiar with the dementia medications prescribed for Alzheimer's.
Different parts of the brain encode and store memory. Without a doubt, the hallmark feature of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss.
The characteristic pattern of Alzheimer's disease is that early on people will experience non-promptable memory loss, meaning their memories don't respond to prompting. For example, a doctor might ask a patient to remember three words: apricot, table and penny. Then the doctor will distract the patient with another task before asking the patient to recall the words.
A person with Alzheimer's disease won't remember the words. Even with cues and hints, such as that one of words is a fruit, they still can’t recall the word.
Changes in the brain
Different pathological changes happen in the brain of a person person with Alzheimer’s disease. Buried in the temporal lobe — located on the side of the brain — is a structure called the hippocampus, which is where memories are encoded.
In an Alzheimer’s patient, pathological changes called tangles and plaques start out near the hippocampus and then spread into the frontal lobe, or the front part of the brain. These plaques and tangles are neurotoxic and they kill nerve cells, causing cognitive loss.
Alzheimer's disease caregivers
Are you caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia? For more resources, download our free ebook Most Common Types of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and More.If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.