What are symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Symptoms include short-term memory loss, which eventually progresses to long-term memory loss; behavioral issues; difficulties with planning and making financial decisions; and difficulties with logic and functional problems, such as ability to drive. In advanced stages, patients have difficulty caring for themselves.
What should readers do if they identify these symptoms in themselves or others?
It’s important to see your primary care physician for evaluation when symptoms first appear and to bring a family member or friend to the appointment. Alzheimer’s disease is a diagnosis of exclusion, involving a neurological exam and taking a thorough history, especially from family members or friends, since a lot of patients are in denial about changes that are occurring.
What are the benefits of early detection?
One benefit is that you’re able to plan accordingly and make financial decisions for yourself and loved ones, while you’re still independent. Another advantage: To be eligible for most clinical research studies, patients need to be in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and not have been treated in the past.
Treatments we have right now help with functionality, cognition, and behaviors and also reduce some of the psychological issues we see, such as anxiety and depression. Medications that slow down the disease process are available, and some of them are generic and inexpensive.
These medications are available to our patients if prescribed by a clinician and should be initiated as early as possible. We also have Alzheimer’s Association meetings for family members and community support services such as grants and access to caregivers. In addition, we also have the comprehensive OATS program for older adults with symptoms of depression.
What can people do to reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?
Having type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol, greatly increases your chance of Alzheimer’s disease.
Leading a healthy lifestyle can either prevent or delay onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Staying cognitively active before the disease and even in early stages of the disease is essential. Speaking several languages, learning how to play musical instruments, playing chess - anything that can promote more connections in the brain cells- will help you combat this disease or at least slow it down.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of the El Camino Hospital Health Beat magazine.