November 12, 2013
More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that results in impaired memory and thinking. Charlene Young, nurse practitioner at the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, says it usually starts with abnormal memory loss.
“Some of the most common symptoms at onset are difficulty learning new information, ... confusion as to time of day, if they wake up early and it is still kind of dark out, they may think it is night time versus morning time. They have mood and behavior changes and increased confusion and paranoia, thinking people are stealing from them. As the disease progresses, there may be behavior changes where patients get agitated ...”
Young says the biggest risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are age and family history. Most of the people who are diagnosed with the disease are over age 65. Although there is no cure, some behavioral and environmental treatments and medications can slow its progression. She describes some of the medications used in treating the disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is treated with cholinesterase inhibitors and these are ones that help the nerves connect better in the brain. What happens in the brain is the nerves do not connect and cells die off. The ones we use are the Exelon® patch, donepezil or Aricept®, or galantamine also known as Razadyne®.”
If someone you know is suffering from serious memory problems and needs help, contact your family physician or call the Alzheimer’s Center at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield at 1-800-342-5748.