Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
This progressive brain disease destroys brain cells and causes memory loss. With medication, we can slow it down.
Many people become forgetful as they get older. This is common, and for many people it can be considered a part of normal, age-related memory impairment. You can slow down this decline with crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, and other activities that keep your brain “well exercised.”
But more serious memory loss is classified as dementia. A person is generally said to have dementia when they have measurable declines in cognitive function to the extent that it interferes with everyday activities such as managing money, using transportation, or doing household chores.
Dementia, or dementia-like symptoms, can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, including depression, lead poisoning, infections, thyroid problems, hematomas, or a reaction to medication. Some dementia, such as those caused by infection, can be reversed.
However, for people over 65, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s requires an autopsy. But for patients showing signs of dementia, we can make a reasonable diagnosis using several diagnostic tools:
- A patient’s medical history
- Observations from family members and caregivers
- Medical tests, such as blood or urine tests, to rule out other possible causes
- Mental status exams for memory, language and problem-solving skills; Neuropsychological testing
- CT or MRI to evaluate brain size and structure and to rule out other brain disorders
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. But we can prescribe medication that will reduce the symptoms of memory loss and confusion. This medication can improve quality of life and delay nursing home placement for a while.
Other medications can be used to treat the related behavioral and psychiatric symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as depression and sleep problems. Health counseling is also available to help patients and caregivers deal with the emotional ramifications of receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
We typically see Alzheimer’s patients every six months to evaluate cognitive function and adjust medication, if necessary.
In addition to patient care, we can provide guidance to caregivers, including referrals to area support groups. As a caregiver, it’s important to understand your own physical and emotional limitations.