What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the progressive collection of damaging proteins inside the nerve cells of the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting more than 5 million Americans a year, mostly over the age of 65.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

We do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease, but studies show a combination of genetics and other environmental factors may play a role. Alzheimer's disease is not an inevitable part of aging. Occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, but AD is a serious condition that can cause significant cognitive decline. Symptoms usually start off mild and worsen over time as the disease progresses. Alzheimer's disease symptoms and signs include:

  • Difficulty with movements including walking, swallowing, and speaking
  • Impaired language, vision and judgment
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Loss of memory (typically having difficulty recalling newly learned information)
  • Mood and behavior changes

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

At Penn Neurology, we offer the latest advancements in diagnostic testing for Alzheimer's disease. Diagnosing AD requires a combination of different types of diagnostic testing. Through comprehensive testing, we can accurately diagnose AD and rule out other forms of dementia.

Diagnostic testing for AD includes:

  • A thorough assessment of your medical history
  • Complete physical examination
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Genetic testing
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) for examination of cerebrospinal fluid
  • MRI or CT scans of the brain
  • Neuropsychological examination
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)

Treatment at Penn

Receiving an Alzheimer's diagnosis can be an overwhelming and stressful time for patients, families and caregivers. Here, we provide comprehensive, individualized care to Alzheimer's patients through every stage of the disease.

Treatment for AD is better than ever. We offer the latest advancements in care combined with access to novel clinical trials. These innovative treatments work to slow the progression of the disease, manage symptoms and greatly improve quality of life. Treatments for AD include:

  • Medications that slow the progression of the disease.
  • Physical and occupational therapy to assist with walking and difficulties with movement.
  • Referral to clinical trials for investigational diagnostic tests and treatments.
  • Treatment for the behavioral consequences of these diseases including disruptions of sleep, disruptions of mood and loss of impulse control.

Alzheimer's disease affects every patient differently, and the progression of the disease varies from person to person. Penn neurologists work collaboratively with other specialists and affiliated treatment centers throughout Penn Medicine, providing individualized treatment plans for the unique needs of every patient.

Penn treatment centers and referral services for AD include:

  • Penn Cognitive Neurology Program
  • The Penn Memory Center, which offers support services including:
    • Assistance with long-term care planning
    • Caregiver support groups
    • Psychotherapy
  • Penn Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Penn Sleep Medicine

Penn Programs & Services for Alzheimer's Disease

Memory and Dementia

Our memory and dementia program specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for individuals with Alzheimer's disease, dementia and memory disorders.

Penn Memory Center

The unified source for those age 65 and older seeking information about progressive memory loss

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