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Alzheimer's Disease
A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, leading to loss of mental functions such as memory and learning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Early-onset Alzheimer's Disease
An unusual form of Alzheimer's in which individuals are diagnosed with Alzheimer's before the age of 65. Less than 10 percent of all Alzheimer patients have early-onset. Early-onset Alzheimer's is associated with mutations in genes located on chromosomes 1, 14, and 21.

Late-onset Alzheimer's Disease
The most common form of Alzheimer's disease, usually occurring after age 65. Late-onset Alzheimer's strikes almost half of all people over the age of 85 and may or may not be hereditary.

Glossary terms cited from the Alzheimer's Association website: www.alz.org


An Epidemic in the Making

Since 1975, the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's has risen from five hundred thousand to five million. Over the next fifty years, it is expected that this number will triple. The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's is old age. As age increases, the risk accelerates, "to the point where dementia affects nearly half of those aged eighty-five and over."*

"Alzheimer's disease is a time bomb waiting to explode. In his groundbreaking book, The Forgetting, David Shenk warns that as the first baby-boomers enter the high risk years over the age of sixty-five, Alzheimer's is likely to become a "defining characteristic" of our society."*

While the disease is in the news with increasing frequency, popular understanding of its causes, and its effects on society and the family, is still limited and often distorted. Few people know that genetics has a role in the disease; fewer still have even a rudimentary understanding of how genes work. There is fear and a sense of hopelessness surrounding popular perceptions of Alzheimer's disease. This has overshadowed a decade of break-through advances, which have brought scientists to the brink of discovering treatments and even a cure.

With Unraveled, we hope to address this dearth of understanding by creating a compassionate portrait of one family coping with Alzheimer's disease and a compelling, yet scientifically accurate picture of the race to find a cure.

*David Shenk, The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: portrait of an epidemic. 2001, Random House, New York.


Additional Information on Alzheimer's Disease

The Nun Study and David Snowdon, author of Aging with Grace
The Alzheimer's Association
National Institute on Aging Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center
Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program (outpatient clinic)
Waveny Care Center (The Village)
Arts for Healing
Ageless Design (information and products for Alzheimer's caregivers)
Rudolph Tanzi (author of Decoding Darkness)
David Shenk (author of The Forgetting)
Dolan DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


Baldwin, Deborah, "Main Street as Memory Lane." The New York Times, 10 January, 2002.

Carter, Rita. Mapping the Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

LeDoux, Joseph. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Viking Penguin Books, 2002.

Lemonick, Michael D. and Alice Park, "The Nun Study: How one scientist and 678 sisters are helping unlock the secrets of Alzheimer's." Time, 14 May, 2001.

Pierce, Charles P. Hard to Forget: An Alzheimer's Story. New York: Random House, 2000.

Ridley, Matt. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Shenk, David. The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: portrait of an epidemic. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Snowdon, David. Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Tells Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.

Snyder, Lisa. Speaking Our Minds: Personal Reflections from Individuals with Alzheimer's. New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1999.

Tanzi, Rudolph E. and Ann B. Parson. Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2000.

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