Memory loss? Confusion? Problems with thinking and reasoning? These are symptoms of declining cognitive health and a sad reality for many people right here in our community. Dementia is a term that describes the decline in cognitive health that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life and Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
Though the greatest known risk factor of Alzheimer’s is increasing age, it’s not just a disease for the elderly. About 5% of cases are early onset which often appears in someone who is in their 40s or 50s.
In its earliest stage, memory loss is mild, but as the disease progresses, it worsens over time. A person will usually lose the ability to have a conversation and respond to their environment.
Depending on the overall health and age of the individual a person with Alzheimer’s lives on average eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but the range is about four to 20 years.
- More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
- It’s the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.
- 1 in 3 seniors die from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
- It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined
- In 2015 15 million caregivers spent more than 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care
- It’s estimated that family caregivers spend $5,000 annually specifically for someone with Alzheimer’s
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s though researchers are working everyday to find new treatments to change the course of the disease and improve the quality of life for those affected.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among cells are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. While current medications cannot stop the damage Alzheimer’s causes to brain cells, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the brain’s nerve cells.
The FDA has approved two types of medications to treat the cognitive symptoms of the disease:
- Regulates the activity of glutamate, a different messenger chemical involved in learning and memory.
- Delays worsening of symptoms for some people temporarily. Many experts consider its benefits similar to those of cholinesterase inhibitors.
- Can cause side effects, including headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness.
Cholinesterase Inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne)
- Prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger important for learning and memory. This supports communication among nerve cells by keeping acetylcholine levels high.
- Delay worsening of symptoms for 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half the people who take them.
- Are generally well tolerated. If side effects occur, they commonly include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased frequency of bowel movements.
Oftentimes, doctors prescribe both types of medications together. Plus, some doctors also prescribe high doses of vitamin E for cognitive changes of Alzheimer’s disease.