Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, a neurologic disease characterized by loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting at least six months, and not present from birth. AD usually occurs in old age, and is marked by a decline in cognitive functions such as remembering, reasoning, and planning. A person with AD usually has a gradual decline in mental functions, often beginning with slight memory loss, followed by losses in the ability to maintain employment, to plan and execute familiar tasks, and to reason and exercise judgment. Communication ability, mood, and personality also may be affected. Most people who have AD die within eight years of their diagnosis, although the interval may be as short as one year or as long as 20 years. AD is the fourth leading cause of death in adults after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Between two and four million Americans have AD; that number is expected to grow to as many as 14 million by the middle of the 21st century as the population ages. While a small number of people in their 40s and 50s develop the disease (called earlyonset AD), AD predominantly affects the elderly. AD affects about 3% of all people between ages 65 and 74, about 19% of those between 75 and 84, and about 47% of those over 85. Slightly more women than men are affected with AD, but this may be because women tend to live longer, leaving a higher proportion of women in the most affected age groups. The cost of caring for a person with AD is considerable. The annual cost of caring for one AD patient in 1998 was estimated as about $18,400 for a patient with mild AD, $30,100 for a patient with moderate AD, and $36,100 for a patient with severe AD. The annual direct and indirect costs of caring for AD patients in the United States was estimated to be as much as $100 billion. Slightly more than half of people with AD are cared for at home, while the remainder are cared for in a variety of health care institutions. The cause or causes of Alzheimer's disease are largely unknown, though some forms have genetic links. Some strong leads have been found through recent research, however, and these have given some theoretical support to several new experimental treatments.