A conservative estimate of the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in the USA is 5.1 million. Nearly one half of elders over 85 years old have dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. It is estimated that 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease (without effective medical interventions). Every 71 seconds, someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This statistic does not include undiagnosed Alzheimer’s and the more than 20 other causes of dementia.
Almost 10 million caregivers, primarily family members, provide free care to people with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. This number represents an economic value of 1.9 billion dollars.
How does one know when something is wrong and that a diagnostic workup is needed for a loved one?
First, we need to learn what the brain does for us. Answer the following 8 questions for yourself:
1. Without looking, tell where your feet are positioned.
2. Where did you live in 1982? How old were you then?
3. What is a calculator? How is that different from a remote control?
4. What sounds, sights, and smells will you have to ignore to be able to concentrate and comprehend what you will read in this article?
5. Do you have a car? Where is it now? What color is it?
6. Map out silently how you’d drive to the mall and back.
7. Estimate how long it will take to do that.
8. Plan a vacation; dream about it.
Our brain serves us well! It takes in information, sorts it, and stores important items in the correct part of your brain’s gray matter. It orients you in space, allows you to go places in your thoughts without actually being there, all while ensuring that you breathe, that you stay upright, that your heart keeps beating, and it allows you to sweat, blink, cough or sneeze without thinking about it.
What does the word dementia mean anyway?
Dementia is a persistent coarsening of brain function. Let’s look again at what the brain does–and does well for the most part: it takes in and processes information, stores it, retrieves it for us at a later time, controls motor skills (movement of the body) , and makes judgment, learning, and reasoning (logical thinking and problem solving) possible. Dementia means that the brain isn’t able to accomplish some (or many) of these functions well anymore. There are more than 20 causes for dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 75% of all dementias.
What is Alzheimer’s type dementia? How does Alzheimer’s disease cause decline in brain function?
According to Dennis Selkoe, MD, a recognized expert in Alzheimer’s research at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Alzheimer’s disease is an imbalance between the production and clearance of Beta amyloid protein. This causes clumping of the protein which kills brain cells adversely, affecting brain function.
How can I know if I or a family member may have dementia?
Early signs of irreversible dementia of Alzheimer type are:
- Trouble remembering events of the last 2+ months
- Trouble remembering a short list of items
- Difficulty remembering names
- Word finding difficulties
- Breaking sentences and forgetting to finish
- Getting lost mid-conversation
- Difficulty problem solving
- Taking longer to do routine tasks
- Duplicate bill paying or neglecting to pay bills
- Disoriented driving; getting lost
- Repeating questions or stories
- Altered perception; hallucinations or delusions
How can we be sure it is Alzheimer’s type dementia?
In order to be sure of what kind of dementia one is dealing with, a battery of tests must be done. This is important to determine if there is a reversible cause for the dementia. These tests are done at memory clinics. In Boston there are memory clinics at many of the major hospitals and they are reported to have an 85- 90% accuracy rate for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. The person is seen by a neurologist, an internist, a social worker, a psychiatrist, and a nurse practitioner, to rule out other causes of the presenting symptoms. Paper and pencil tests, brain scans, blood work, help eliminate the possibility that other conditions are causing the symptoms. The only way to be 100% sure if it is definitely Alzheimer’s disease is to do a brain biopsy after death.