What is Alzheimers Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a slowly progressive form of dementia that affects nearly 4 million people in our country. The disease results in a progressive impairment of intellectual functions by causing both structural and chemical problems in the brain.
What are the warning signs?
Memory impairment is a necessary feature for the diagnosis of dementia. Other symptoms that often accompany Alzheimers Disease are changes in language, decision making ability, attention span, judgment, and personality. In the early stages, the symptoms may be very subtle and include:
- Repeating statements frequently
- Frequently misplacing items
- Trouble finding names for familiar objects
- Getting lost on familiar routes
- Personality changes
- Becoming passive and losing interest in things previously enjoyed
What causes Alzheimers Disease?
Unfortunately, the cause of Alzheimer's disease is not known, but it is not a part of normal aging.
How quickly does the disease progress?
The rate of progression is different for each person. If Alzheimers Disease develops rapidly, it is likely to continue to progress rapidly. If it has been slow to progress, it will likely continue on a slow course.
Who is at risk?
The most important risk factors that are currently identified are age and family history. The older a person gets, the higher the chance of developing Alzheimers Disease.
How is Alzheimers Disease diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease is to establish that dementia is present. Second, the type of dementia is clarified. A physician will take a history, do a physical exam (including a neurological exam), and do a mental status examination.
Tests may be ordered to rule out other medical conditions that could cause dementia, including thyroid disease, vitamin deficiency, brain tumors, or chronic infection.
Alzheimers Disease usually has a characteristic pattern of symptoms and can be diagnosed by history and physical exam by an experienced clinician. Tests that are often done to evaluate or exclude other causes of dementia include computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and blood tests.
How is Alzheimers Disease treated?Alzheimers Disease cannot be cured and the impaired functions cannot be restored. Currently, the progression can be slowed but not stopped. Treatment focuses on attempting to slow the progression; managing the behavior problems, confusion, and agitation; modifying the home environment; and most importantly, supporting the family. As the disease progresses, it may take a greater toll on the family than the patient.