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Friday, June 18, 2010

Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common.

Alzheimer’s begins slowly with the person having trouble remembering things that happened recently or the names of people they know. Over time, these symptoms get worse. They may not be able to remember family members or have trouble speaking, reading or writing. As the disease progresses, they may become anxious or aggressive or wander away from home.

Many Alzheimer’s patients live with a family member until the disease progresses to where the family member is not able to take care of them anymore. This causes great stress to family members.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but there are drugs that can slow the progression of symptoms for a time.

Alzheimer’s disease usually begins after the age of 60. The risk increases as you get older. The risk is also higher if a family member has the disease.

Today, the only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease is to find out whether plaques and tangles co-exist in brain tissue. There is no 100% accurate way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. The only way to confirm diagnosis is to examine the brain after the person dies. However, skilled clinicians have a 90% accuracy rate in diagnosing the disease.

Doctors use several tools to diagnose Alzheimer's disease.

1. a complete medical history with questions about the person's general health, past medical problems, family health, and any difficulties carrying out daily activities
2. medical tests, such as tests of blood, urine or spinal fluid
3. tests to measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language skills
4. brain scans that allow the doctor to look at a picture of the brain to see if anything does not look normal

These tests can help rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

Once Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, doctors have four drugs available to treat symptoms. For people with mild or moderate Alzheimer's, donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Razadyne®) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Donepezil is also approved for symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Another drug, memantine (Namenda®), is used to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's, although it is also limited in its effects.

For more complete information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s web site at http://nihseniorhealth.gov/alzheimersdisease/toc.html

MedlinePlus also has a great page that contains links to information on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and all kinds of other helpful resources.

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