Epidemiology of Alzheimer's Disease
- According to the Alzheimer's Association website, scientists know Alzheimer's is the progression of the failure and deterioration of brain cells, however, they do not know why the cells fail and deteriorate. Scientists have noticed most Alzheimer's patients are over 65 years old, but it has been detected in people as young as in their 30s. Family history increases the likelihood in developing Alzheimer's, with the chances increasing further if you have more than one relative with the disease.
- Alzheimer's is especially tricky to diagnose because there is no single test that proves whether a patient has the disease or not. Doctors must look at the symptoms, other health problems that could cause the symptoms, medical history and current medications to rule out other possible diagnoses. Patients will be asked to perform simple tasks, such as remembering lists and drawing a clock of a specified time, to test mental cognition. Physicians test physical and neurological health, as well as take images of the brain. All of the tests can help the doctors understand what could be causing the symptoms, which will determine the treatment plan.
- There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but some treatments help the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. The cognitive symptoms can be treated with medications that affect the chemical messengers of the brain's nerve cells, preventing the breakdown of these chemicals, as well as regulating the chemical activity. These medications, however, only slow the progression of Alzheimer's for six to 12 months, on average, and only in half of the patients who take them. Physicians may decide to treat the indirect symptoms, such as depression or aggression, with medication, as well, but must consider the repercussions of additional medications on a case-by-case basis.
- According to the Alzheimer's Association's "2009 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures," 5.3 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer's. Of those living with the disease, 5.1 million people are older than 65. More women than men have the disease and other forms of dementia. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and every 70 seconds another person develops the disease.
- Early diagnosis is the key to slowing the progression of Alzheimer's. Go to your doctor immediately if you notice memory loss that disrupts normal activity. Other warning signs include: difficulty solving simple problems, completing daily tasks, confusion about time and place, misplacing items, problems with verbal or written communication, decreased judgment, removal from social situations and trouble comprehending visual and spatial relationships.