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Facts About Alzheimer's Disease

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What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is a common, slowly progressive dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia can be medically defined as the global loss of cognitive function in clear consciouslness. For our purposes, however, dementian can be thought of as the gradual loss of one's ability to think.

What are clues that a person has Alzheimer's disease?

A person who slowly loses (over many years) the ability to care for themselves, handle money, or even think or speak clearly, probably has Alzheimer's disease.

What are clues that a person's thinking problems are not related to Alzheimer's disease?

  • A person who loses the ability to think overnight does not have Alzheimer's disease.
  • A person who loses the ability to think over weeks does not have Alzheimer's disease.
  • A person who loses the ability to think over months does not have Alzheimer's disease.

How can you be sure that a person has Alzheimer's disease?

A definite diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can only be made through looking at a person's brain after death. A good physician can be reasonably sure of the diagnosis after carefully talking with family, examining the patient, and performing appropriate testing.

How common is Alzheimer's disease?

Some people estimate that the number of people with Alzheimer's disease doubles every five years after the age of 60, so that 1% of 60 year-olds and up to 40% of 85 year-olds have the disorder. The estimated cost nationally in 1991 for caring for affected individuals was $76 billion.

What causes Alzheimer's disease?

No one clearly understands all of the causes of Alzheimer's disease. A number of things, however, appear to be important, including one's family history. Genetics play a role in whether or not a person may become affected with Alzheimer's disease. Also, factors such as education and the amount of continued mental activity that a person performs affect the likelihood of becoming affected with Alzheimer's disease.

What can family and friends expect once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease?

Unfortunately there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Although treatment can help the patient do better with activities, nothing can reverse or significantly slow the progression of the difficulty patients have with thinking.

Can Alzheimer's disease be prevented?

At this point, doctors do not have a clear way of preventing Alzheimer's disease. Keeping active physically and mentally, however, seems to help. Controlling blood pressure and avoiding excessive alcohol intake never hurts. The usefulness of aspirin, estrogen or vitamin E to prevent Alzheimer's disease is still unclear.

What treatments are available?

The only FDA approved medications for Alzheimer's disease are drugs that increase a certain chemical in the brain (acetylcholine). These medications go by the names of Aricept, Cognex, Exelon, and Reminyl. Vitamin E may also slow the speed of decline in people's thinking. Haldol is a mild sedative that is given when people suffering from Alzheimer's disease begin to "act out."

What safety precautions need to be taken for a person with Alzheimer's disease?

Safety is a major issue in the care of someone with Alzheimer's disease. Because of a tendency to wander, affected people may need to be supervised 24 hours a day. Furthermore, access to dangerous objects such as matches, knives or stoves may need to be restricted. Lastly, driving privileges eventually need to be revoked.

What does the future hold for Alzheimer's research?

Much exciting new research is being performed in the area of Alzheimer's disease. Probably the most exciting development is the possibility of a vaccine to prevent or reverse the brain damage caused by the disorder.