By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Alzheimer’s disease occurs when changes in the brain methodically stunt and slow down memory and cognitive thinking. It’s associate with those in their senior years and it often worsens with time.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently.
“Someone who has moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease can see their quality of life decrease drastically,” according to physician Ciandra D’Souza, assistant professor in the department of medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center. “They may get frustrated with not being able to remember common occurrences in their lives and it can affect their ability to live independently.”
One of the key indicators of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. While we all have moments of forgetfulness, what makes this different is the recurring aspects along with the sudden decrease of short-term memory.
“You will find someone repeating the same sentences over and over again or not realizing in one conversation that they are telling the same story repeatedly,” said D’Souza, who is also board-certified in internal medicine. “Also, when someone forgets the name of family members, familiar places or has problems finding the correct words for a situation, it can be a sign that the symptoms are worsening.”
2. This disease kills
Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Aging. More than five million Americans are living with the disease. By 2050, the number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million.
“People are dying from this disease,” said D’Souza. “We cannot understate the seriousness of what someone goes through who has Alzheimer’s.”
3. Support is essential
Because Alzheimer’s targets the memory of an individual, it can cause layers of difficulties for those battling through it. That is why it is important to have a close support system.
“Oftentimes, family is going to be the first people who notice cognitive changes,” said D’Souza. “They are going to notice the changes in speech, memory and overall behavior.”
Another reason she touts family as essential is because once someone receives the diagnosis, they will need people around them for encouragement and overall help, especially if the disease progresses rapidly.
“It really does take a village, and support is one of the best ways you can help your family and friends,” said D’Souza. “Many times people just feel lonely and isolated.”
4. Alzheimer’s is not just a part of aging
Medical officials believe one of the reasons that Alzheimer’s gets diagnosed later than it should is because people just see memory loss as part of getting older. They equate it in the same manner as arthritis, back pain or diminished eyesight.
“The problem is that it often isn’t until it is too late that someone comes in to see a doctor and tell them what is happening. They will say they are fine and they won’t mention that they are having memory lapses,” said D’Souza. “Sometimes it is because of stubbornness or thinking it is associated with getting older so they don’t see it as a problem. Yes, you may not remember things as quickly as you used to when you get older, but that is in a different category than having a severe cognitive disease.”
5. Possible blood test
For years, medical experts have been hoping to find new ways to predict someone’s propensity to getting Alzheimer’s. Recently, researchers found that a combination of brain PET scans and spinal fluid tests can help discover the disease as early as two decades before it occurs. While that doesn’t mean anything is reversible, when early detection occurs it can help treatment. Experts say the new discovery could lead to testing of new drugs and creative treatment options.
“Right now it is important for people to know that there is no definite cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” said D’Souza. “But that doesn’t mean there are not ways to slow down the progression. This test is an example of how we can work with the philosophy of early detection to educate and put a plan together for the disease.”
Photo: Physician Ciandra D’Souza, assistant professor in the department of medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center.