Alzheimer's disease, defined as a deterioration of memory and other cognitive functions, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with one in three seniors dying with Alzheimer's or another form dementia. The course of illness can run from two to 15 years. "Many people have the disease, but are left undiagnosed for several years while the disease is in a mild or pre-clinical phase," says Dr. Barbara Paris, Director of Geriatrics.
The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's is age. "The incidence doubles every five years after age 65, resulting in approximately one-third of people over the age of 85 with this disease," Dr. Paris adds. Alzheimer's should not be confused with normal aging. "It is a pathological process that involves an abnormal accumulation of proteins in the aged brain, leading to both oxidative and inflammatory damage."
The prevention of Alzheimer's Disease is not possible today. However, early detection can lead to accessing potential treatments; better financial and family planning; participation in advance directives and goals of care decisions; and obtaining community support entitlements and services.
10 Warning Signs for Alzheimer's Disease
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
It's also important to discover other illnesses, medications and herbal remedies that may mimic or worsen Alzheimer's. "Multiple strokes, depression, delirium and thyroid deficiency all have the potential to be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's. Polypharmacy (use of multiple medications) and medication adverse events can also mimic dementia."
While there are FDA-approved medications which may alleviate some Alzheimer's symptoms, there are no medications which can prevent, delay, cure or slow down the progression of disease. More importantly, patients and family members should seek coordinated medical care and support services that can help patients maintain better physical and mental health. "The key is to obtain patient and family counseling about this illness using support groups, The Alzheimer's' Association and the National Institute on Aging – just to name a few resources. In May 2012, the first National Alzheimer's Plan was released to effectively prevent this disease by 2025 via supporting research initiatives."
For more information on warning signs, check out the Alzheimer's Association's checklist.
Dr. Barbara Paris
Vice Chair, Medicine
Director, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Dr. Barbara Paris has performed research and published extensively throughout her career. She has been featured on ABC News regarding prescription medicine and its impact on geriatric patients, and on NBC, discussing the topic of treating depression in the elderly. She has been honored with the Special Recognition Award in Geriatric Medicine for outstanding contributions and teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and is listed in New York Metro Area’s Top Doctors, as well as in Castle Connolly’s America’s Top Doctors.
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