Alzheimer’s disease is a disease that causes problems with memory, thought, and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a term that describes general problems with intellectual abilities that interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s accounts for up to 80% of all dementia patients.
There are over 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, and it cost about $200 billion dollars a year to care for them.
Scientific researchers are still unsure of what causes Alzheimer’s but much of the research points to two abnormal protein structures; beta-amyloid plaques, and tau proteins. Scientists believe these abnormalities cause decreased communication between brain cells and overtime can lead to cell death.
The Alzheimer’s Association defines seven specific stages to measure the severity of a patient’s condition, ranging from little to no impairment, to a very severe decline in cognitive function.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
A verbal mental status examination can help guide your healthcare professional to a diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s is not curable, but there are drug treatments that can temporarily slow the progression of the disease and encourage positive outcomes. The drugs that are approved for Alzheimer’s include:
Because the drugs work differently, they are often prescribed together in what is known as combination therapy to achieve the best outcome for the patient.
In about 40 years, the number of older Americans with Alzheimer’s disease—a form of dementia—is likely to triple to nearly 14 million people.1 That’s why the U.S. government is funding extensive trials to try to get a handle on the disease—especially at its earlier stages.2
In the meantime, spotting the signs of Alzheimer’s in a loved one can help you get a handle on what to do next. It isn’t always easy to know the difference between a simple memory lapse and something more serious. After all, everyone has those tip-of-the-tongue experiences once in a while.
One early sign of Alzheimer’s is having new problems struggling for a word or name or getting lost in the middle of a conversation. This is especially true if it happens along with other warning signs like these:
It’s important to know that not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms. Nor will the disease always progress at the same rate.5 Trust your instincts. If you feel something is changing, have a discussion with your doctor. I can also be a sounding board. It may be time for a medical evaluation. There isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but treatment can help with symptoms and support services can make a world of difference.4
Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.
Reuters: “Alzheimer’s to Triple by 2050 as baby boomers age.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_133803.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
HealthDay: “U.S. Launches Extensive Alzheimer’s Studies.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_133058.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
HealthDay: “Health Tip: Spot the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s.” Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_134639.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
Alzheimer’s Association: “10 Warning Signs.” Available at: http://www.alz.org/espanol/signs_and_symptoms/10_warning_signs.asp Accessed March 17, 2013.
Alzheimer’s Association: “Seven Stages of Alzheimer’s.” Available at: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp Accessed March 17, 2013.