Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease occurring in older people that leads to memory loss, disorientation, mood swings, problems with speaking, apathy and lack of interest in self-care.

The disease tends to start slowly — with initial symptoms often mistaken for normal aging — and worsens over time. As AD progresses, bodily functions are lost and the disease often results in death. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is three to nine years.

AD affects about 6% of people ages 65 and older and accounts for 60%-70% of dementia cases. In 2010, the disease affected 21 to 35 million individuals worldwide.

While there is evidence of genetic heritability, AD is most strongly affected by environmental factors. Smokers and those who have suffered from head injuries, depression, diabetes or hypertension are at greater risk for developing the disease.

There is evidence that certain behaviors and eating habits may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. These include mental exercises (reading, playing board games or crossword puzzles and learning a second language), physical exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a Mediterranean diet. There is also evidence that consuming coconut oil can temporarily lower symptoms in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

In cases of severe Alzheimer’s disease, patients may exhibit behavioral problems or psychosis. Although these patients are sometimes treated with antipsychotic medications, this type of therapy is considered a last resort and is usually not recommended as these drugs are shown to offer little benefit and carry an increased risk of death.

Example: Sonya continues to visit her beloved grandfather in the nursing home even though he struggles to remember her name due to Alzheimer’s disease.