Knowing Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Critical To Early Treatment

Family, primary care physicians vital as disease set to nearly double over next two decades

DAYTON, Ohio (June 19, 2013) – Perhaps the only thing more frightening than the thought of losing one’s own memory is the idea that one day a loved one may not recognize them.

Unfortunately, one or both of those scenarios is becoming more of a reality for millions of Americans as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia cases escalate across the nation. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. That number is expected to nearly double by 2025. In Ohio, the number of individuals suffering from the disease is estimated to rise 30 percent in that time period.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but in some cases there are medicines available to slow its progression. That’s why early diagnosis of the disease is so critical. Family members and primary care physicians can play a vital role in detecting the disease at its early stages, said Pamela Werner, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician who practices at Miami Valley Primary Care.

“In the beginning, the individual or their family notices that they are not remembering things as well – and, of course, it can be difficult to determine whether it is normal memory loss that comes with aging or if something else is happening,” Dr. Werner said. “One of the hallmark signs is repetitious conversation. You may be having a conversation with someone and then five minutes later they tell you the same thing as if they didn’t remember telling you the first time.”

Other signs of Alzheimer’s disease include: memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images, new problems with written or spoken words, decreased judgment, withdrawal from social activities and personality changes. The Alzheimer’s Association said individuals should see their doctor if they experience one or more of these signs.

Dr. Werner also encourages family members to talk with their loved one’s doctor if they see any of the symptoms. Family members can call their parent’s physician to voice their concern so that the physician can be aware of it the next time the patient comes into the office. Dr. Werner often does a screening called the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) with patients who might be concerned about any mental or memory changes. The MMSE is a series of questions that provides a snapshot of a patient’s cognitive function. If needed, the test can be repeated in six months to determine if there has been any decline.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a broad term describing a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally. The death of these cells causes changes in one’s memory, behavior and ability to think clearly. In Alzheimer’s disease, these bring changes that eventually impair an individual’s ability to carry out such basic bodily functions as walking and swallowing. As a result, Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is critical because an individual can get the maximum benefit from available treatments, be a part of planning for their future care, and enable their loved ones to receive the help and support they will need to walk through this journey, the Alzheimer’s Association said.

Scientists have identified three main risk factors likely to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease including age, family history and genetic makeup. The greatest known risk factor is advancing age. Most individuals with the disease are age 65 or older. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles about every five years after age 65 and after age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Those who have a parent, sibling or child with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop the disease, and the risk increases even more if more than one family member has the illness. Likewise, scientists have discovered that certain genes may put individuals at greater risk for developing the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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