Monday, March 12, 2012
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Last month, the Obama administration launched its National Alzheimer’s plan in an effort to come up with a strategy to combat a disease estimated to affect up to 16 million Americans by 2050, as the population continues to rapidly age.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in the United States. This progressive and often fatal brain disease is one of the greatest neurological concerns for elderly patients. Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells, causing a steady loss of memory that affects thinking, behavior and communication. These problems progress and often become severe enough to significantly interfere with regular daily activities.
“Unfortunately,” states Dr. Marshall Keilson, Director of Neurology, “the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's is aging.” The first warning sign of Alzheimer's is often memory loss, which usually progresses to symptoms that include:
The government’s goal is to find effective ways to treat Alzheimer’s by 2025. It’s definitely an ambitious goal. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and available medications only somewhat slow its progression and alleviate some of the associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms, including depression and emotional distress.
- Difficulty performing daily tasks
- Trouble communicating clearly
- Confusion about time and place
- Misplacing things
- Repetition of questions or stories
- Struggling to make basic decisions
- Other fundamental changes in personality
I personally think the plan’s additional focus placed on family members and caregivers is not only beneficial, but necessary to the care of Alzheimer’s patients. Families can find themselves overwhelmed by the task of caring for a loved one with degenerative memory loss. The process can be both emotionally and physically draining. The proposed plan advocates support for these caregivers so that they can provide the best care for affected loved ones. “At Maimonides,” Dr. Keilson explains, “we also realize that Alzheimer’s not only affects the lives of those who suffer from it, but their family members and other caregivers as well.” Although the cognitive function of patients suffering from this incurable brain illness cannot be reversed, a lot can be done to improve the day-to-day quality of life for both the patient and caregiver. According to Dr. Keilson, “It’s important to ensure that caregivers remain emotionally, financially and physically capable of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.”