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Aging brings with it some changes to the body that are completely natural. Our eyesight might worsen, your joints may stiffen and you may occasionally forget where you left your car keys. One thing that isn't a normal part of aging is Alzheimer's disease.
A form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disease that affects memory and cognitive thinking. It's estimated more than 5 million Americans have it, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
Experts do not know what causes Alzheimer's, but risk factors include:
Being female, having high blood pressure for many years and head trauma also seem to be associated with Alzheimer's disease, although these risks aren't well-proven, according to the NIA.
"Alzheimer's is marked by forgetfulness that causes a disruption in your daily life," says Charlece Hughes, DO, a neurologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth. "It's forgetfulness that inhibits you from being able to cook a mean, drive a car or relate to family members."
It is not forgetting your neighbor's daughter's name every once in a while or misplacing your reading glasses. "It's our busy lifestyles and the fact that we're so overcommitted that we have these issues. They're nothing to worry about," Dr. Hughes says. "It's the inability to function in daily life that should be worrisome."
Alzheimer's disease is often recognized in others rather than being recognized in ourselves. If you notice odd behavior in a family member, take him or her to the doctor.
While Alzheimer's is not curable, treatment is available to slow the progression of the disease. The key is sticking with the medication. "A lot of times the patient will say that there is nothing wrong with them and that they don't need help," Dr. Hughes says. "So it's up to the family members to ensure they are taking care of themselves."
For a referral to neurologist on the medical staff at Baylor Fort Worth, visit BaylorHealth.com/AllSaintsNeuro or call 1.800.4BAYLOR.
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