Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: What You Need to Know

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Helen’s story

Image of three generations of women reading book togetherI have Alzheimer’s disease. It took me a long time before I could even say the words. When the doctor first told me, I felt like my life was over. For a while, I was depressed. My doctor told me about medicine I could take. She said it would slow down my memory loss for a while. I know it’s not a cure. Still, it feels good to do something.

My family has been wonderful. They’re helping me plan for the care I’ll need. I have decided to take each day as it comes. I want to live my life as fully as I can.


Alzheimer’s disease is an illness of the brain. It causes large numbers of nerve cells in the brain to die. This affects a person’s ability to remember things, think clearly, and use good judgment.

Doctors don’t know what causes the disease. They do know that most of the time it begins after age 60.

What happens when a person has Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease often starts slowly. In fact, some people don’t know they have it. They blame their forgetfulness on old age. However, over time, their memory problems get more serious.

People with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble doing everyday things like driving a car, cooking a meal, or paying bills. They may get lost easily and find even simple things confusing. Some people become worried, angry, or violent.

As the illness gets worse, most people with Alzheimer’s disease need someone to take care of all their needs, including feeding and bathing. Some people with Alzheimer’s live at home with a caregiver. Other people with the disease live in a nursing home.

Publication Date: June 2011
Page Last Updated: August 28, 2014