Alzheimer’s disease is a physical illness which damages a person’s brain. This eventually causes dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
Explaining your symptoms to a GP
Print and complete our symptoms checklist. Take it with you when you visit your GP to help describe your symptoms.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will get worse over time. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, a person will need increasing support with everyday living.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are very complex, but one key part is the build-up of two substances inside the brain called amyloid and tau. When conditions in the brain aren’t right, these clump up and form tiny structures called plaques and tangles. These make it harder for the brain to work properly.
Over time the disease causes certain parts to become smaller. It also reduces the amount of important chemicals needed to send messages around the brain.
Eventually the brain struggles to cope with the damage and the person begins to have problems with memory and thinking. When it gets to the stage where these problems are making it difficult for the person to do everyday tasks that they used to do easily, this is called ‘dementia’.
Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?
The term 'Alzheimer's disease' – or Alzheimer’s – can be used to describe the physical disease that damages the brain, as well as the type of dementia that the disease causes.
Getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease
It is very important for anyone who has worsening problems with their memory or thinking to be assessed by a health professional, which is most often their GP. If a GP thinks their symptoms may be caused by dementia, they will refer the person to a local memory service for more detailed assessment.
Other types of Alzheimer’s disease
There are some less common types of Alzheimer’s disease that do not cause memory problems at first. These are known as ‘atypical’ Alzheimer’s. There are four main types, which have different early symptoms:
- one mostly affecting language, called logopenic aphasia
- one causing problems with vision and working out where things are in relation to each other, called posterior cortical atrophy
- one that affects behaviour and/or thinking, called frontal variant Alzheimer’s disease
- one that causes problems with movement and sensation as well as thinking, perception and language, called corticobasal syndrome.
Risk factors for Alzheimer's disease
There are many different things that can increase a person’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s. These are known as ‘risk factors’. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, but many others can. Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, as it is for most types of dementia.
Getting advice and support for Alzheimer's disease
There are many ways to help someone to live well with Alzheimer's disease. For more help and support, you can contact our support line, or join our online community.
Dementia Support Line
Dementia Support Forum
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