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Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders

Woman with arm around shoulder of older adult woman Dementia is not a specific disease but rather reflects a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities.  Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible progressive brain disease that affects an estimated 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older. It is estimated there are 280,000 Pennsylvanians currently living with the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a type of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is the seventh leading cause of death among all adults.

Although dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging. Not everyone develops dementia as they get older. In rare cases, some people develop dementia in midlife.  Dementia is a serious disorder that interferes with daily life.  Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions and other behaviors and their personality may change.  Aside from Alzheimer's disease, the most common forms of dementia are:

Additional Resources:

The PA State Plan for Alzheimer's Disease & Related Disorders developed a strategy to mobilize the commonwealth's response to the anticipated increase in the incidence of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders in Pennsylvania.

Signs and Symptoms

Older adult male holding hands with womanMemory problems are often one of the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or another dementia disorder, but they are not the only one.  Symptoms can vary depending on the type of dementia and what areas of the brain are affected.  Warning signs of dementia may include the following:

  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Changes in the ability to speak, understand, and express thoughts and/or words and to write and read
  • Repeating questions
  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities or events
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia

For additional information and warning signs, please see 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's (

Early Detection and Diagnosis

Female doctor talking to older coupleThe National Institute for Aging has resources available to encourage reaching out to and talking with your doctor if you notice you have more serious memory problems than normal.  This information is available in English and Spanish. The earlier that Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are diagnosed, the sooner you can receive information, care and support. 

Forgetfulness: Normal or Not?

Effective communication with your doctor is important when you are seeking a diagnosis for memory loss.  Ask questions, be prepared to answer questions, and be as honest as possible. For further information, please see the doctor's visit checklist.

A formal diagnosis allows people living with dementia to have access to available symptomatic treatments and interventions, build a care team, participate in support services, and potentially enroll in clinical trials.

Additional Resources:

Risk Reduction Behaviors

A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.  Many factors affect a person's health.  Some risk factors – genes, age and race – cannot be controlled.  However, others like behavior and lifestyle can be controlled, including diet, sleep and physical activity.

The CDC and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors have prepared actions to take to protect your brain health.

There are currently no approaches that have been proven to effectively treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.  However, there may be steps you can take to help reduce your risk.  In general, leading a healthy lifestyle may help address risk factors that have been associated with these diseases:

  • Control high blood pressure
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Keep physically active
  • Stay mentally active
  • Stay connected with family and friends
  • Treat hearing problems
  • Take care of your mental and physical health
  • Sleep well
  • Prevent head injury
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Stop tobacco use

For additional information, please see Healthy Brain Aging.


For more information on Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, including local supports, please see the following:

  • National Institute on Aging Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADEAR) Center or 1-800-438-4380. The ADEAR Center has Information Specialists available to assist with specific questions regarding Alzheimer's disease; free publications about Alzheimer's and related dementias symptoms, diagnosis, related disorders, risk factors, treatment, caregiving tips, home safety tips, and research; referrals to local supportive services and research centers that specialize in research and diagnosis. There are Spanish language resources, training materials, guidelines and news updates. 
  • Alzheimer's Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter or 24-Hour Helpline: 1-800-272-3900. The Alzheimer's Association Greater Pennsylvania provides support, education, training and other resources to increase knowledge and to support those facing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
  • Pennsylvania's Area Agencies on Aging - Across Pennsylvania, a local Area Agency on Aging can connect an individual to the appropriate programs and services needed. To find a local Area Agency on Aging, visit the Department of Aging's website
  • University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer's Disease Research Center - The University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer's Disease Research Center is one of the nation's leading research centers specializing in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. Through outpatient evaluations, participants and their families receive state-of-the-art diagnostic assessments and contribute to the scientific study of Alzheimer's disease.
  • University of Pennsylvania's Penn Memory Center - The Penn Memory Center (PMC) is a single, unified Penn Medicine source for those age 65 and older seeking evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, information, and research opportunities related to symptoms of progressive memory loss, and accompanying changes in thinking, communication and personality.  They offer state-of-the-science diagnosis, treatment and research, focusing on individuals with Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and other age-related progressive memory disorders. The PMC is supported in part by the National Institute on Aging.
  • Dementia Friends Pennsylvania - An initiative dedicated to helping everyone in a community understand what dementia is and how it affects people. Through live, interactive online and in-person learning sessions, Dementia Friends Pennsylvania aims to increase understanding of dementia, and encourage community members to think about the small things they can do to make a difference for people living with dementia in the community.
  • Provider Resources on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders

Disclaimer: These are general recommendations only; clinical decisions should be made by the treating physician based on an individual patient's clinical condition.