June is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

Alzheimer’s Disease is an irreversible and gradually progressive disease which causes dementia.  Dementia refers to a loss of memory with eventual impairment of other brain functions.

Dementia affects up to 5 percent of the population between ages 65 and 70, but the prevalence of dementia in those age 100 is about 45 percent.

Though there are some types of dementia which are reversible, between 60 and 80 percent of cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

The initial symptoms of dementia are subtle and may go unnoticed.  Alzheimer’s disease, however, will gradually progress and cause difficulty with activities of daily living such as shopping, managing finances and maintaining a household.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease can typically live independently with support during early stages of the disease, but this can evolve into a 24-hour per day responsibility for caregivers.

Spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors and children often become involved in helping an individual with Alzheimer’s disease.

Caring for someone with dementia can be burdensome and may lead to “caregiver burnout,” which is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion.  This can be prevented by providing assistance through respite care and social support.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is clinical, meaning there is not an individual test that can definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but genetic testing is not currently recommended.  Less than 5% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease are genetically inherited.

Some studies suggest sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, high cholesterol, depression and cigarette smoking increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed in these areas.

There are treatments, including medications, which can help improve symptoms or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but there is no cure.

An excellent resource for Alzheimer’s disease is the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alzo.org, 1-800-272-3900).

Individuals who are experiencing symptoms consistent with dementia should be seen by their physician, as there are some reversible causes of memory change which can be diagnosed through laboratory analysis or brain imaging studies.

By Ryan M. Harden, MD MS