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Understanding Alzheimer’s disease

Alan Worsley, PhD, MRPharmS, and Andrew Husband, MSc, MRPharmS, are senior lecturers at Sunderland University

Horacio Sormani/Science Photo Library

People with Alzheimer's disease

Depending on the severity of the dementia, people with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to recognise themselves

Panel 1: Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease

· Increasing age
· Being female
· Family history
· Head injury
· Parkinsonism
· Hypothyroidism
· Exposure to dietary aluminium
· Cardiovascular disease
· Smoking
· High alcohol intake


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder and the fourth leading cause of death in developed countries after heart disease, cancer and stroke. This disease is the leading cause of dementia in the elderly — incidence in 60–64 year olds is approximately 1 per cent but this increases to 40 per cent in those aged 85 and over.

The symptoms of AD were first identified by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in individuals between the ages of 45 and 65 years. These include progressive memory loss and cognitive functional decline. In the later stages of the disease, patients become unable to perform activities of daily living (eg, brushing teeth, tying shoe laces, etc). Such inactivity results in reduced musculature and is likely to lead to residential care.

Most patients also experience behavioural (eg, sleeplessness, aggression and apathy) and psychiatric (eg, delusions and hallucinations) problems.

Various risk factors have been suggested for AD (see Panel 1). Although not all have good supporting evidence, pharmacists could advise on risk reduction measures, such as giving up smoking.

Full text(PDF, 90K)


Citation: The Pharmaceutical JournalURI: 10002234

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