The global prevalence of dementia is estimated to be as high as 24 million, and is predicted to double every 20 years through to 2040, leading to a costly burden of disease. Alzheimer disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia and is characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive function, which typically begins with deterioration in memory. Before death, individuals with this disorder have usually become dependent on caregivers. The neuropathological hallmarks of the AD brain are diffuse and neuritic extracellular amyloid plaques-which are frequently surrounded by dystrophic neurites-and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles. These hallmark pathologies are often accompanied by the presence of reactive microgliosis and the loss of neurons, white matter and synapses. The etiological mechanisms underlying the neuropathological changes in AD remain unclear, but are probably affected by both environmental and genetic factors. Here, we provide an overview of the criteria used in the diagnosis of AD, highlighting how this disease is related to, but distinct from, normal aging. We also summarize current information relating to AD prevalence, incidence and risk factors, and review the biomarkers that may be used for risk assessment and in diagnosis.