Dementia fight helped by early treatment

Family members and doctors are key.Knowing the signs can counter Alzheimer’s and memory loss.

Everyone forgets things from time to time. It’s a fairly common occurrence in busy, multitasking lives. However, sometimes forgetfulness can be an indication of something far more serious.

While the thought of losing one’s own memory is frightening, perhaps even more so is the idea of a loved one no longer recognizing those closest to them. As Alzheimer’s disease and dementia cases escalate across the nation, knowing the signs to look for and getting treatment early makes all the difference.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that this year, 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to nearly double by 2025. In Ohio, the number of individuals suffering from the disease is estimated to rise 30 percent in that time period.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, in some cases there are medicines available to slow the worsening of symptoms. That’s why early diagnosis of the disease is so critical. Family members and primary care physicians can play a vital role in detecting the disease at its early stages, said Pamela Werner, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician who practices at Miami Valley Primary Care.

“In the beginning, the individual or their family notices that they are not remembering things as well — and, of course, it can be difficult to determine whether it is normal memory loss that comes with aging or if something else is happening,” Dr. Werner said. “One of the hallmark signs is repetitious conversation. You may be having a conversation with someone, and then five minutes later they tell you the same thing as if they didn’t remember telling you the first time.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a broad term describing a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally. The death of these cells causes changes in one’s memory, behavior and ability to think clearly. In Alzheimer’s disease, these bring changes that eventually impair an individual’s ability to carry out such basic bodily functions as walking and swallowing. As a result, Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal.

The Alzheimer’s Association advises individuals to see their doctor if they experience one or more of the following signs: memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images and special relationships, new problems with written or spoken words, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgment, withdrawal from work or social activities and changes in mood and personality.

“We say that the time to see a doctor is when the memory issues start to effect your daily life,” said Carrie Mueller, director of outreach and communications for the Miami Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Getting lost while driving in familiar settings, forgetting appointments, not recalling names of people they’ve always known, asking for same info over and over, etc.”

Dr. Werner also encourages family members to talk with their loved one’s doctor if they see any of the symptoms. Family members can call their parent’s physician to voice their concern so that the physician can be aware of it the next time the patient comes into the office. Dr. Werner often does a screening called the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) with patients who might be concerned about any mental or memory changes. The MMSE is a series of questions that provides a snapshot of a patient’s cognitive function. If needed, the test can be repeated in six months to determine if there has been any decline.

“We really encourage people to see their doctor because sometimes there are other things that can cause memory issues, like certain medications they may be taking or perhaps there is a different medical condition present,” Mueller said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, scientists have identified three main risk factors likely to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease including age, family history and genetic makeup. The greatest known risk factor is advancing age. Most individuals with the disease are age 65 or older. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles about every five years after age 65 and after age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.

Those who have a parent, sibling or child with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop the disease, and the risk increases even more if more than one family member has the illness. Likewise, scientists have discovered that certain genes may put individuals at greater risk for developing the disease.

“Sticking your head in the sand is not a viable plan,” said Mueller. “Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 70 percent of dementia cases. Getting the information and support you need is important in being able to live the best life possible.”

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