Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is Alzheimer's?

Dementia is a condition that is caused by the progressive loss of intellectual functions. Although many things can cause dementia, Alzheimer's disease is the most common. Alzheimer's disease is caused by nerve cell death. Once a nerve cell ( brain cell ) dies, the function is lost. The person with Alzheimer's disease becomes increasingly impaired as cells continue to die. Although much research is being done, scientists are not sure what triggers the onset of this disease. 

A medical workup to diagnose Alzheimer's disease should include: a physical examination and blood tests to rule out treatable conditions; taking a history of the cognitive and functional difficulties the patient is having; undergoing a brain imaging scan ( CT or MRI ); and a mental status examination and test of intellectual abilities, emotional state, verbal skills, problem solving skills and memory. 

In Alabama 84,000 people suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Approximately 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. This number includes 4.9 million aged 65 and older. It also includes at least 200,000 individuals younger than 65 with early onset Alzheimer’s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease was listed as the “underlying cause of death” for 65,829 Americans in 2004. It was the seventh leading cause of death for people of all ages and the fifth leading cause for people age 65 and older. Alzheimer’s afflicts both men and women, in all racial, religious and socioeconomic groups.

No two patients are alike. The course of the disease can be from two to twenty years, with an average of eight years. Patients progress from needing supervision, to needing custodial care, to needing 24 hour a day nursing care. 

Early stage patients have mild memory problems, but tend to function well at home. Middle stage patients begin to have difficulty caring for themselves and may experience behavioral and psychiatric problems. Late stage patients require total care. Throughout the disease, the caregiver must learn to be adaptable and must seek appropriate community and medical services. Caregivers must care for themselves, as well as for their patient.

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