Abilities The level at which certain actions and activities can be carried out.

Acetylcholine A chemical in the brain (neurotransmitter) that appears to be involved in learning and memory – Acetylcholine is greatly diminished in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Activities of daily living (ADLs) Personal care activities necessary for everyday living, such as eating, bathing, grooming, dressing and using the toilet.

Adult day services Programs that provide participants with opportunities to interact with others, usually in a community center or dedicated facility.

Advance directive (living will) A document written when in “good” health that informs your family and health care providers of your wishes for extended medical treatment in times of emergency.

Adverse reaction A clinical trial term that includes any unexpected health or behavioral changes in the person participating in the trial.

Aggression Hitting, pushing or threatening behavior that commonly occurs when a caregiver tries to help an Alzheimer’s disease patient with daily activities, such as grooming and dressing.

Agitation Vocal or motor behavior—such as screaming, shouting, complaining, moaning, cursing, pacing, fidgeting, wandering, etc.—that is disruptive, unsafe or interferes with the delivery of care in a particular environment.

Allele One of two or more alternative forms of a gene. For example, one allele of the gene for eye color codes for blue eyes, while another allele codes for brown eyes.

Alternative and complementary therapies The use of techniques other than drugs, surgery or other conventional therapies to treat disease and manage chronic pain. Some common alternative therapies, also called complementary therapies, include the use of herbs, meditation and exercise, magnets, reflexology, massage and acupuncture.

Alzheimer’s disease A progressive and fatal disease in which nerve cells in the brain degenerate and brain matter shrinks, resulting in impaired thinking, behavior and memory.

Ambulation The ability to walk and move about freely.

Amino acids The basic building blocks of proteins. There are 20 amino acids necessary for human growth and function.

Amyloid A protein deposited in plaques in Alzheimer’s disease brains.

Amyloid imaging PET scan showing amyloid proteins in the brain.

Amyloid plaque Abnormal clusters of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells, and amyloid protein fragments, characteristic of the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Antidepressants Medications used to treat depression. Antidepressants are not addictive; they do not make you “high,” have a tranquilizing effect or produce a craving for more. They can cause drowsiness and other side effects.

Antibodies Specialized proteins produced by the cells of the immune system that counteract specific foreign substances. Antibodies may also be produced outside the body and infused as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Anti-inflammatory drugs Drugs that reduce inflammation by modifying the body’s immune response.

Anxiety A feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness or dread accompanied by restlessness or tension.

Apathy Lack of interest, concern or emotion.

Aphasia Difficulty understanding the speech of others and/or expressing oneself verbally.

Art therapy A form of therapy that allows people with dementia to express their feelings creatively through art.

Assay The evaluation or testing of a substance for toxicity or impurities.

Assessment An evaluation, usually performed by a physician, of a person’s mental, emotional and social capabilities.

Assisted living facility A residential care setting that combines housing, support services and health care for people in the early or middle stages of a disabling disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Associated disorders Conditions that are present at the same time.

Asymptomatic When there are no symptoms or no clear sign that disease is present.

Atrophy Shrinking in size; often used to describe the loss of brain tissue seen in Alzheimer’s disease during autopsy or on brain imaging.

Autonomy A person’s ability to make independent choices.

Autopsy The examination of a body’s tissues and organs after death.

Axon The arm of a nerve cell that normally transmits outgoing signals from one cell to another.

Basal ganglia Nerve cells in the brain’s grey matter that are involved in controlling aspects of movement, judgment, personality, and speech.

Behavioral neurologist A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral and memory disorders that are due to brain disease.

Behavioral symptoms In Alzheimer’s disease, emotional symptoms, such as wandering, depression, anxiety, hostility and sleep disturbances.

Beneficiary An individual named in a will who is designated to receive all or part of an estate upon the death of the person who made the will.

Binswanger’s disease A type of dementia associated with stroke-related changes in the brain.

Biomarker Used to indicate or measure a biological process; for example, levels of a specific protein in blood or spinal fluid. Detecting biomarkers specific to a disease can aid in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of affected individuals, as well as people who may be at risk but who do not yet have symptoms.

Biotechnology The use of biology, or the study of living things, and biological processes to make goods or develop technologies for the benefit of humanity. Biotechnology is often used in the fields of food, drugs, and energy.

Blood-brain barrier The selective barrier that controls the entry of substances from the blood into the brain.

Blood tests A series of tests routinely done on blood to look for abnormalities associated with various diseases and disorders.

Brain With the spinal cord, one of two parts making up the central nervous system. The brain is the center of thought and emotion. It is responsible for the coordination and control of bodily activities and the interpretation of information from the senses.

Calcium An element taken in through the diet that is essential for a variety of bodily functions, such as the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and proper heart function. Imbalances of calcium can lead to many health problems and can cause nerve cell death.

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