Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a form of dementia, common amongst older people. Dementia is a disorder of the brain that significantly impairs a person’s ability to complete daily activities.
AD is considered a progressive disorder as onset is slow. Initially, the portion of the brain that controls memory, thought and language are affected; causing lapses of memory particularly with people they know and names. Mild Cognitive Impairment, which also causes difficulties with memory, is often a precursor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Today, there are approximately 5.4 million US citizens living with Alzheimer’s disease; of these, 5.2 million are ages 65 and older. 3.4 million of those currently living with Alzheimer’s are women. I/2 of American’s over age 85 are living with AD. The number of people with AD doubles every 5 years past age 65.
With AD, symptoms worsen over time. Symptoms include:
Symptoms and the progression of symptoms vary from person to person. In general, symptoms take years to develop and become more severe over time.
There is no known cause for Alzheimer’s disease. The medical community suggests that there may be multiple factors that cause AD, and not a single causal factor. Lifestyle, genetics, and environment may contribute to the development of AD. Aging is the most significant known risk factor. Typical onset of the disease is around age 60. If another family member has been diagnosed with AD, risk increases.
Late onset Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form and occurs after age 60. There are no discernible family patterns with late onset AD; however, genetic factors are said to increase a person’s risk for this type.
According to the DSM IV-R, in order to be diagnosed with AD, memory must be significantly impaired and there must be the presence of a cognitive disturbance such as language disturbance, failure to identify or recognize objects despite being able to see, feel, hear, smell them; and/or impaired ability to carry out motor activities.
Impairment must be significant enough to represent a major decline in occupation or social functioning; and cannot be attributed to other causes such as central nervous system damage, substance abuse, or other diseases such as Huntington’s or Parkinson’s. Characteristic gradual onset and continuing decline are also required for diagnosis.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s nor is there a treatment that can stop the condition. Available treatments, however, can reduce or prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited period of time. Doctor’s care for a person diagnosed with AD is strongly recommended.
Treatment of AD most commonly includes a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication is designed to assist in maintaining current memory level, speaking ability, thinking skills, as well as address some behavioral problems. All treatment of AD is for a limited time. The four medications used to treat AD are:
The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy with AD clients is frequently focused on memory exercises and training, art and music therapy, and relaxation therapy. Oftentimes, caregivers are asked to be involved in memory training exercises to learn the techniques for effective communication and memory cuing.
Because there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a number of alternative treatments including herbal supplementation, acupuncture and chiropractic manipulation, as well as the use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory agents. However, there is minimal scientific or clinical evidence to support these purported remedies.
Strategies to prevent or delay AD onset and symptomatology include:
1. DSM-IV. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC.