By: Dr. Barry Riskin
September has been designated as World Alzheimer’s Month, and awareness of this disease is both worthy and timely.
In the United States alone, there are an estimated five to nine million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease. What often makes Alzheimer’s disease so devastating is not only the toll the illness takes on the patient alone, but also the toll it takes on the spouse, family, or other caregivers and friends.
At the time of this writing, some of the greatest minds in medicine and research are working literally around the world and around the clock to find a cure or at least improvements to the treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
Tremendous progress has been made in our understanding of what Alzheimer’s disease is, and thankfully, we do have some treatments that help lessen some of its symptoms. But all will agree that there is much work left to be done.
Many people are confused by the term “dementia” and how it relates to Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia can be understood as a loss of all aspects of thinking power over time. Of all the causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is overwhelmingly the most common. Stroke, head injury, Parkinson’s disease, as well as other problems can lead to dementia, but again, Alzheimer’s disease is far and away the most common.
Another source of confusion is that many people think of Alzheimer’s disease as a problem of memory – but memory alone does not make up our overall thinking power – add to this loss of judgment, insight, initiative, concentration, planning, execution, creativity, navigational skills, comprehension, and computational skill and one gets the sense of how negatively impactful Alzheimer’s disease can be.
All physicians treating adults will have the chance to encounter and share in the care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. As the large population of “baby boomers” ages, the total number of persons with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to rise over the next ten to twenty years.
One of the most important aspects of treating Alzheimer’s disease is to engage the help and support of the patient’s spouse or partner, friends, family, and community. Keeping people with Alzheimer’s disease fully engaged with people and activities can be vital – and it often requires great care and support of those tasked with the care of the patient as well.
Evaluations for Alzheimer’s disease often consist of an interview and physical examination with a doctor, often a neurologist or other specialist – sometimes blood tests, brain scans, or other tests are also employed to ensure there are no other medical problems or complicating factors.
There is always hope for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families – our hope is that within our generation we will be able to stop or cure it – let us work together to make sure that in the meantime, those around us get the care that they need and deserve.