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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative disorder of the brain and one of several conditions that cause dementia, a progressive decline of mental functions resulting in memory loss and confusion. About 4 million Americans have the disease and it's estimated that Alzheimer's accounts for 50 to 70 percent of all cases of dementia.

The cause of Alzheimer's is unknown but doctors are making progress in understanding and diagnosing the disease, and developing drug treatments that may slow the decline. Researchers are investigating what happens to brain cells in people with Alzheimer's disease and what genes are associated with the disorder. Most researchers believe that the cause may be a complex set of factors, including genetics, age and a person's risk for vascular diseases such as high cholesterol and blood pressure.

The illness was first described in 1906 by a German doctor named Alois Alzheimer. Symptoms include a gradual loss of memory, problems with reasoning or judgment, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills and a decline in the ability to perform routine tasks. Patients also may undergo changes in behavior, experiencing agitation, anxiety and hallucinations.

The incidence of Alzheimer's disease, sometimes called AD, rises with age and typically develops after age 60. Men and women are equally at risk, but more women are affected since women have a longer average life span. About 30 percent of Alzheimer's patients have a family member with the disease.

The first symptom tends to be subtle memory lapses, especially for recent events or newly learned information. These memory lapses lead to more significant gaps and confusion. Eventually, the disease leads to severe brain damage that impairs the ability to complete everyday tasks as well as to reason, learn and imagine.

Our Approach to Alzheimer's Disease

UCSF is an international leader in Alzheimer's disease (AD) research and care. We offer advanced imaging techniques to identify specific dementia disorders, including the amyloid PET scan, which can reveal brain changes characteristic of AD. Our team of neurologists, neuropsychologists, geriatricians and other specialists works closely with patients, family members and referring providers to provide the best possible treatments.

Because caring for someone with AD can be challenging, we work to connect caregivers as well as patients with a network of support services.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • usnews-neurology

    Best in California and No. 2 in the nation for neurology & neurosurgery

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.