Sunday, October 11, 2009

In Memoriam: All who may die from Alzheimer's disease

This past week, Clay lost someone very close to him from Alzheimer's disease. I lost my father to the disease. Many, many families in this country have also lost a loved one to the disease, or they are living with a family member who either has the disease or who will get the disease.

Alzheimer's is not a pleasant disease. It robs the person of the essence of who they are. Here are some facts on Alzheimers from

Alzheimer's facts:
• As many as 5.3 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s.

• Alzheimer's and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older.

• Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s.

• Alzheimer's is the seventh-leading cause of death.

• The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.

10 Signs of Alzheimer's:

*Memory loss that disrupts daily life
*Challenges in planning or solving problems
*Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
*Confusion with time or place
*Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
*New problems with words in speaking or writing
*Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
*Decreased or poor judgment
*Withdrawal from work or social activities
*Changes in mood and personality

Alzheimer's myths

Myth 1: Memory loss is a natural part of aging.

Reality: In the past people believed memory loss was a normal part of aging, often regarding even Alzheimer’s as natural age-related decline. Experts now recognize severe memory loss as a symptom of serious illness.

Myth 2: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.

Reality: Alzheimer's disease has no survivors. It destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. It slowly and painfully takes away a person's identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk and find his or her way home

Myth 3: Only older people can get Alzheimer's

Reality: Alzheimer's can strike people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. This is called younger-onset Alzheimer's. In 2009, it is estimated that there are as many as 5.3 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. This includes 5.1 million people age 65 and over and 200,000 people under age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth 4: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Reality: During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.

Myth 5: Aspartame causes memory loss.

Reality: This artificial sweetener, marketed under such brand names as Nutrasweet and Equal, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996. Since approval, concerns about aspartame's health effects have been raised.

Myth 6: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and overall better health

Myth 7: Silver dental fillings increase risk of Alzheimer's disease

Reality: According to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver dental fillings and Alzheimer's. The concern that there could be a link arose because "silver" fillings are made of an amalgam (mixture) that typically contains about 50 percent mercury, 35 percent silver and 15 percent tin. Mercury is a heavy metal that, in certain forms, is know to be toxic to the brain and other organs.

Myth 8: There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease

Reality: At this time, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

Stages of Alzheimer's

Stage 1:
No impairment (normal function)

Unimpaired individuals experience no memory problems and none are evident to a health care professional during a medical interview.

Stage 2:
Very mild cognitive decline (may be normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease)

Individuals may feel as if they have memory loss and lapses, especially in forgetting familiar words or names or the location of keys, eyeglasses or other everyday objects. But these problems are not evident during a medical examination or apparent to friends, family or co-workers.

Stage 3:
Mild cognitive declineEarly-stage Alzheimer's can be diagnosed in some, but not all, individuals with these symptoms

Friends, family or co-workers begin to notice deficiencies. Problems with memory or concentration may be measurable in clinical testing or discernible during a detailed medical interview. Common difficulties include:

*Word- or name-finding problems noticeable to family or close associates
*Decreased ability to remember names when introduced to new people
*Performance issues in social or work settings noticeable to family, friends or deficiencies.

*Reading a passage and retaining little material
*Losing or misplacing a valuable object
*Decline in ability to plan or organize

Stage 4:
Moderate cognitive decline(Mild or early-stage Alzheimer's disease)

At this stage, a careful medical interview detects clear-cut deficiencies in the following areas:
*Decreased knowledge of recent occasions or current events
*Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic-for example, to count backward from 75 by 7s
*Decreased capacity to perform complex tasks, such as planning dinner for guests, paying bills and managing finances
*Reduced memory of personal history
*The affected individual may seem subdued and withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations

Stage 5:
Moderately severe cognitive decline(Moderate or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Major gaps in memory and deficits in cognitive function emerge. Some assistance with day-to-day activities becomes essential. At this stage, individuals may:
*Be unable during a medical interview to recall such important details as their current address, their telephone number or the name of the college or high school from which they graduated
*Become confused about where they are or about the date, day of the week or season
*Have trouble with less challenging mental arithmetic; for example, counting backward from 40 by 4s or from 20 by 2s
*Need help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion
*Usually retain substantial knowledge about themselves and know their own name and the names of their spouse or children
*Usually require no assistance with eating or using the toilet

Stage 6:
Severe cognitive decline(Moderately severe or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Memory difficulties continue to worsen, significant personality changes may emerge and affected individuals need extensive help with customary daily activities. At this stage, individuals may:
*Lose most awareness of recent experiences and events as well as of their surroundings
*Recollect their personal history imperfectly, although they generally recall their own name
*Occasionally forget the name of their spouse or primary caregiver but generally can distinguish familiar from unfamiliar faces
*Need help getting dressed properly; without supervision, may make such errors as putting pajamas over daytime clothes or shoes on wrong feet
*Experience disruption of their normal sleep/waking cycle
*Need help with handling details of toileting (flushing toilet, wiping and disposing of tissue properly)
*Have increasing episodes of urinary or fecal incontinence
*Experience significant personality changes and behavioral symptoms, including suspiciousness and delusions (for example, believing that their caregiver is an impostor); hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there); or compulsive, repetitive behaviors such as hand-wringing or tissue shredding
*Tend to wander and become lost

Stage 7:
Very severe cognitive decline(Severe or late-stage Alzheimer's disease)

This is the final stage of the disease when individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, the ability to speak and, ultimately, the ability to control movement.
*Frequently individuals lose their capacity for recognizable speech, although words or phrases may occasionally be uttered
*Individuals need help with eating and toileting and there is general incontinence of urine
*Individuals lose the ability to walk without assistance, then the ability to sit without support, the ability to smile, and the ability to hold their head up. *Reflexes become abnormal and muscles grow rigid. Swallowing is impaired.

Consult a doctor when you have concerns about memory loss, thinking skills and behavior changes in yourself or a loved one. For people with dementia and their families, an early diagnosis has many advantages:
*time to make choices that maximize quality of life
*lessened anxieties about unknown problems
*a better chance of benefiting from treatment
*more time to plan for the future

It is also important for a physician to determine the cause of memory loss or other symptoms. Some dementia-like symptoms can be reversed if they are caused by treatable conditions, such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies.

In Memoriam to all who suffer from, or have a loved one suffering from, Alzheimer's disease.