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What is Alzheimer's disease?

October 09, 2000

What is Alzheimer's disease?



Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder marked by abnormal clumps and irregular knots of brain cells. These mangled cells overtake healthy brain tissue, gradually destroying the ability to reason, remember, imagine and learn, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"It is a very unnerving, scary, frustrating situation to be in," said Barbara Pilgram, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Western Maryland.

Alzheimer's affects more than 4 million people in the United States, and experts predict the disease may affect up to 14 million people nationwide as baby boomers age, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The average duration of the disease from onset to death is 8 years, but every Alzheimer's sufferer is affected differently, Pilgram said.

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Though doctors can't positively diagnose Alzheimer's disease until a posthumous brain autopsy reveals the disease's markers, more sophisticated diagnostic tools have resulted in a 90 percent diagnostic accuracy rate, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Physicians now use an elaborate process of elimination to diagnosis the disease, and research is under way for a concrete, noninvasive Alzheimer's test, Pilgram said.

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