Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that causes memory loss, personality and behavior changes, and a decline in thinking ability. Alzheimer’s affects 5.6 million people over 65 and about 5.8 million people in total have Alzheimer’s in the United States. Promising research continues to provide hope to reduce the risk of developing this crippling disease.
The victims of Alzheimer’s disease often have difficulty performing familiar tasks, such as preparing a meal, opening a car window, using a household appliance, remembering words, and sometimes have difficulties with language or perception of reality. This can affect work, lifelong hobbies, social and family life, and the disease worsens over time.
The most common form of dementia among older people is Alzheimer’s disease, also known as A.D. or cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s initially involves the parts of the brain that are vital to memory and other mental abilities, and connections between nerve cells are disrupted. Some of the chemicals in the brain that carry messages back and forth between nerve cells become reduced.
Scientists are now able to pinpoint possible targets in the brain for treatment and are finding that damage to parts of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, can sometimes be seen on brain scans before symptoms of the disease occur.
This can be hard for both sufferers and caregivers and can affect their physical and mental health, family life, job and finances. Although some cholesterol is needed for healthy cells, too much cholesterol can block arteries and lead to heart attacks and other problems such as Alzheimer’s. Proteins appear to become locked up in these cholesterol deposits.
Doctors use several tools to diagnose “probable” A.D. such as asking questions about the person’s general health, past medical problems, and ability to carry out daily activities, tests of memory which include counting, problem solving, attention, and language, and other tests on blood, urine, spinal fluid, and brain scans.
A clinical trial is examining whether vitamin E and or selenium supplements can prevent A.D., and additional studies are ongoing or being planned on patients with mild to moderate A.D. on other antioxidants, including a study of the antioxidant treatments such as vitamins E, C, alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q.
Modern treatment can include any or all of the following:
- cholinesterase inhibitors
- partial glutamate antagonists
- non-medication based treatments
- treatment of psychiatric symptoms
Caring for people who care for people with Alzheimer’s is now also considered to be important for the A.D. patient as well.
If Alzheimer’s is the diagnosis, treatment should be started as soon as possible so that the person with the disease can be involved as soon as possible in treatment decisions and planning for the future.