There may be a breakthrough on the Alzheimer’s front, a disease impacting as many as 4.5 million Americans.
British scientists say they are closing in on a “cheap and easy screening” test to detect the earliest stages of the memory erasing disease. The scientists are hoping the test will be available in the next ten years. Until that time, we are left with more questions than answers.
What do you do if you, or a loved one begins down that slippery slope of forgetfulness? How do you know if you are dealing with the signs of aging versus the symptoms of a disease whose results are loss of memory, thinking, and reasoning skills?
According to almost all medical research the answer may be fairly simple: memory changes do take place due to aging, but when these memory problems interfere with daily life there may be a problem. Severe memory loss is not simply the aging mind.
Alzheimer’s Disease was discovered in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer, but was not understood as a terminal disease until the 1970s. And 40-plus years of research and treatment has taught us many things about common behaviors in the earlier days of the disease. They are:
· Memory loss that disrupts daily life;
· Challenges in planning solving problems;
· Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, or at work;
· Confusion with the time and place;
· Trouble reading, or judging distances;
· Trouble following or joining a conversation with others;
· Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps;
· Decreasing and poor judgment;
· Removing oneself from social activities;
· Poor hygiene; and/or
· Changes in personality and mood, such as fear, depression, anxiety, and suspicion.
If some or all of these symptoms are present in a family member or friend, seeking medical confirmation is critical. As diagnosis and treatment - as early as possible - can mean treatment that can lead to independence as long as possible.
The disease is quite difficult to manage and if independence is no longer a practical option, supervised care should be. Specially trained caregivers will keep an Alzheimer’s patient safe and content. Their care will focus on the realities of today and not the memories of yesterday. The biggest problem for family members, says Dr. Jacob Mintzer, chairman of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, is often that "they're trying to preserve the person they knew as long as possible." It is indeed a terrible disease.
So much has been written about Alzheimer’s Disease and its progression, advice to patients and caregivers -- it is almost overwhelming. However, here is a start:
Alzheimer’s Association of America
Frequently asked questions about Alzheimer's disease from MedicineNet.
An overview of Alzheimer's disease from eMedicineHealth.
An excellent resource for caregivers is The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life.
If you have additional resources to share about Alzheimer’s Disease, or care giving to someone with Alzheimer’s we would love to hear from you.