Find a Doctor Find a Doctor
Time to see a specialist?
Time to see a specialist?
We found [COUNT] Specialists
who treat [INTEREST]
We found [COUNT] Specialists
who treat [INTEREST]
[TELEHEALTH] offer Telehealth options.
Caring for Agitation in Alzheimer's Disease

This content is created by Healthgrades and brought to you by an advertising sponsor. More

This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the Healthgrades advertising policy.

Everything to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease

Medically Reviewed By Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes a progressive loss of cognitive function, including memory, learning, and language abilities. Buildups of protein in the brain cause nerve cells to stop functioning and die, shrinking some areas of the brain. People with Alzheimer’s disease may initially experience mild memory loss. As the condition progresses, the symptoms can become more severe and may affect their ability to speak, learn facts, or care for themselves.

Though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, treatment may slow its progression and help manage the symptoms.

Read on to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease?

An older adult sitting on their porch
Eddie Pearson/Stocksy United

Alzheimer’s disease occurs when proteins build up in specific areas of the brain. The buildups disrupt communication between the nerve cells and cause them to stop functioning and die.

In early Alzheimer’s disease, protein buildups typically occur Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source in areas of the brain that influence memory. As the disease progresses, the buildups spread to parts of the brain involved in reasoning, language, and other cognitive functions.

As nerve cells around the brain die, those areas shrink. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s disease cannot care for themselves.

Learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain.

The exact reason these protein buildups occur isn’t fully understood. Many factors may increase a person’s risk Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of developing Alzheimer’s disease, including:

  • increasing age
  • head injuries
  • cardiovascular conditions
  • obesity or diabetes
  • chronic infections
  • exposure to environmental risk factors like heavy metals or air pollution
  • dietary factors, such as a diet high in saturated fats or low in essential nutrients
  • genetic variants, some of which may be inherited and some that are spontaneous

Learn more about what causes Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

A variety of symptoms are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. At first, a person might have mild memory issues, such as having trouble finding a word or forgetting appointments. As the disease progresses, memory problems can worsen, and other symptoms may appear, including:

  • wandering
  • becoming lost in familiar places
  • being unable to recognize family or friends
  • being unable to manage money
  • repeating questions
  • becoming anxious or agitated
  • being unable to reason or make good judgments

Later in the disease, a person may become unable to communicate or care for themselves.

Learn more about early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

What are the stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses into three stages: early, middle, and late, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

early or mild
  • can typically still function independently
  • may have mild memory issues like losing objects or forgetting words
  • may find it hard to function at work or in social situations
middle or moderate
  • may need more care
  • may forget personal information like their life history or phone number
  • may forget where they are or wander
  • may show personality or behavioral changes
late or severe
  • may need 24-hour care
  • may not be able to communicate
  • may not be able to move independently
  • may not be able to swallow on their own
  • may become more susceptible to infection

Learn more about the stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The rate at which Alzheimer’s disease progresses can vary, and sometimes the stages may overlap.

Learn more about how fast Alzheimer’s disease may progress.

How do doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease?

Doctors evaluate a person’s symptoms, perform a physical, and order tests to reach an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Also, they will perform a neurological evaluation, which involves assessing a person’s:

  • coordination
  • strength
  • reflexes
  • speech

In addition, brain imaging exams or blood tests may also be used Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to rule out other conditions or potentially identify body changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed.

What are the treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease often involves medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a few drugs to manage the condition:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors: These medications help the brain’s nerve cells communicate with each other more effectively, which may help with cognitive function. Examples include donepezil (Aricept) and galamantine (Razadyne).
  • Memantine (Namenda): This medication protects the brain’s nerve cells by blocking a chemical called glutamate.

Other medications such as antipsychotics or antidepressants may also help manage behavioral or mood changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about common Alzheimer’s disease medications.

However, a doctor may initially recommend nonpharmacological approaches instead of medications for symptoms like anxiety or agitation. These approaches may include:

  • keeping a regular schedule
  • listening carefully
  • communicating respectfully

What is the outlook for people with Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, meaning the symptoms worsen over time. Though there is currently no cure, early treatment can help slow the progression and improve a person’s quality of life.

Can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

You may not be able to prevent Alzheimer’s, but there are some risk factors Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source for the condition and other types of dementia that you may be able to change. For example, it may be beneficial to:

  • avoid smoking
  • get regular physical activity
  • maintain a moderate weight
  • limit your alcohol intake
  • manage underlying conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes
  • protect yourself from brain injuries
  • reduce your exposure to air pollution

Learn more about preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Other frequently asked questions

Shilpa Amin, MD, CAQ, FAAFP, reviewed the answers to these common questions about Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. The term “dementia” encompasses many conditions that cause progressive declines in cognitive function, including Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and other conditions.

Learn more about the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What is the life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer’s disease?

A 2021 analysis of studies Trusted Source The Lancet Highly respected journal, Expert written journal, Peer reviewed journal Go to source involving more than 63,000 people with dementia found that people with Alzheimer’s disease lived an average of 5.8 years after diagnosis. However, life expectancy can vary greatly from person to person, and your doctor can help you understand the outlook for your condition.

Learn more about the long-term outlook and life expectancy for Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain condition that results in a decline in cognitive function. It isn’t curable, but treatment may help manage the symptoms and slow the progression.

Talk with your doctor about ways to manage Alzheimer’s disease.

Was this helpful?

Medical Reviewer: Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2024 Feb 7
View All Caring for Agitation in Alzheimer's Disease Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.