Effects of rise in Alzheimer’s seen first-hand

by Amita Pai, M.D., geriatric medicine, Assistant Professor, Oakland University-William Beaumont School of Medicine

grandchildA new government funded report from Rush University Institute of Healthy Aging published in the journal Neurology has brought much needed focus and attention on Alzheimer’s disease.  The study, which included new census data, reports that the number of people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s disease will almost triple by 2050, straining the health care system and taxing the health of caregivers.

As a geriatrician, I wasn’t surprised by this new study as it validated what I was seeing in my practice at the Beaumont Geriatric Clinic and what advocacy groups had been forecasting.  The increasing incidence is largely due to the aging “baby-boomer” population.  Although the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, the disease is not a part of normal aging.

I see the devastating effects of this terrible illness in my patients, not only robbing them of a quality life in their sunset years, but also impacting their loved ones due to caregiver stress.  While the patient suffers sometimes without knowledge, the family is burdened with the knowledge of this terrible illness.  I thought this new study was an appropriate time to share the following facts on Alzheimer’s disease with the community:

  1. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 50 to 80 percent of cases.  But there are other causes for dementia, too.
  2. Alzheimer’s dementia presents with memory failure, personality changes or problems performing daily activities.  It is a slow, progressive disease.
  3. Plaques and tangles develop in the brain in a predictable manner, damaging and killing nerve cells.  The exact reasons for these pathological changes are still unclear.
  4. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
  5. It is important to get tested early to get the maximum benefits of available treatments, explore research trials and to plan for the future.

It is always a difficult moment for me to confirm a patient’s worst fears that they have Alzheimer’s disease.  I tell them diagnosis is the first step to educate and empower themselves in the fight against the disease. Research studies are underway to better understand the disease process and to diagnose it early.  This, in return, will hopefully lead to new treatment options.

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2 thoughts on “Effects of rise in Alzheimer’s seen first-hand

  1. Karen says:

    My 80 year old mom is exhibiting signs of dementia. For example, calling me and leaving a message that she needs a ride home from work. How is it that she is able to call me, knowing I am her daughter, but not being lucid enough to realize she doesn’t have a job? Also, how and at what point is a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s made? Thank you.

  2. Karen – There is no definitive diagnostic way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. It is usually determined by process of elimination by ruling out other conditions, but once they land on Alzheimer’s, it is usually about 85-90% accurate. The tests used to do all of this include mental status test, neuropsych testing, spinal tap, CXR, blood tests, CT/MRI, EKG, EEG and urinalysis and can performed in any combination.

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