In 1906 Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist first discovered the disease we now refer to as Alzheimer’s Disease. This devastating disease affects many adults over the age of 60 and some even younger. It is estimated, according to the National Institute on Aging, that over 5.1 million Americans may have this disease.
It is a disease that affects not only the patient, but the family members and friends of the patient. I recently came across a very good article by Pam Belluck that was printed in the New York Times in December of 2010. Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate documents the difficulty in treating these patients as well as advice on methods to handle what we in the healthcare field term exiting behaviors (trying to escape) as well as decreasing the anxiety that these patients feel because they simply cannot remember and they do not know why.
If you have a family member or friend with this disease, you’ll want to read this article. Although there are many advances in medicinal treatments for Alzheimer’s now, it may still be years before we come close to a cure. In fact it is still very difficult to even diagnose properly. The reason for this is because it is impossible to diagnose if a patient’s memory loss or dementia is caused by plaques that have formed on the brain (Alzheimer’s Disease) or if the patient has some other underlying pathology that is causing the symptoms. Other causes of dementia can include certain medications, drug or alcohol abuse, cerebral vascular insufficiency and other diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Lilly has a trial drug on the market, Amyvid, that is being tested to help in diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Until this test is approved, the only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s is through autopsy and examination of the brain for the presence of these plaques that form. Lilly also has a trial drug, Solanezumab, that may be available soon to treat mild dementia. There are other medications that may assist in slowing symptoms or controlling behaviors. More information can be found on the National Institute on Aging’s website, Alzheimer’s Association’s website, or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s website.
So although we salute Dr. Alzhiemer for discovering the cause of a certain form of dementia, we also realize that in over 100 years after it was first discovered, we still do not have a cure or even sufficient treatment or diagnostic procedures. If you are a caregiver, watch for future blogs from me that will list signs and symptoms to watch for if you suspect someone may have Alzheimer’s Disease and instructions for caregivers on management skills.