Alzheimer’s Disease: Information and Resources for Patients and Families
With nearly six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, it is time for people to come together to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that persists around dementia.
This year, World Alzheimer’s Month spotlighted the warning signs of dementia, encouraging people to seek out information, advice, and support, as well as contacting the Alzheimer’s Association. As a former clinical instructor at The Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at UHB, I personally worked with and saw firsthand that the Alzheimer’s Association is a valuable resource to patients and families afflicted with this insidious disease.
Answers to Your Questions About Alzheimer’s Disease
What is Alzheimer’s, and Who Does it Affect?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to complete simple tasks.
In most people, symptoms first appear later in life.
Estimates vary, but experts suggest that approximately six million Americans, most of them age 65 or older, may have dementia caused by AD.
Signs and Symptoms
Typically, one of the first signs of cognitive impairment is memory problems.
Some people who develop memory issues have a condition known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Individuals with MCI have more memory problems than usual for someone their age, but the symptoms they experience do not interfere with their everyday lives. MCI has been linked to movement difficulties and problems with sense of smell.
Older people with MCI are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but some may even revert to normal cognition.
The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person. For many, a decline in nonmemory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, could be a signal of the onset of the very early stages of the disease.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
The exact causes aren’t fully understood. At a basic level, brain proteins fail to function normally, disrupting the work of neurons in the brain and triggering a series of toxic events. Neurons then become damaged, losing connections to each other and eventually dying.
Scientists believe that for most people, it is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.
Less than one percent of the time, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by specific genetic changes that virtually guarantee a person will develop the disease. These rare occurrences usually result in disease onset in middle age.
How Is It Diagnosed?
To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, a clinician will:
- Ask the person and a family member questions about overall health, use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality.
- Conduct tests of memory, problem-solving, attention, counting, and language.
- Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem.
- Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to support a diagnosis or to rule out other possible causes or symptoms.
Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Treated?
Alzheimer’s disease is complex, and it is therefore unlikely that any one drug or other intervention will ever successfully treat it in all people living with the disease.
Tremendous Progress Has Been Made
However, in recent years, scientists have made tremendous progress in better understanding this disease and in developing and testing new treatments, including several medications that are in late-stage clinical trials.
Early Diagnosis is Essential
It is very important to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in the early stages because treatment is most helpful then. Most medicines work best for people in the early or middle stages. However, it is important to understand that none of the medications available at this time will cure it.
Vitamin E May Slow Functional Decline
Vitamin E has shown that it might slow functional decline in Alzheimer’s disease and, notably, it did not increase the risk of developing serious side effects or mortality. The Vitamin E dose found most effective is 2,000 international units (IU) of alpha tocopherol. Please be cognizant that this can interfere with other medications.
Clinical Consultations are Highly Recommended
Having a clinician perform a careful medication review is highly recommended. Contact us today to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.