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11.20.12

Alzheimer’s Disease

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.  Ronald Zec, associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, says it usually starts with abnormal memory loss.

“...  in the early phases, it’s an impairment in new learning and memories.  And generalized intellectual deficits include impairment in language, communication and what we call visual/spacial functioning, . . . Then problem solving – thinking, attention, processing speed. Then that in turn will adversely affect one’s ability to live independently and take care of oneself.”

Zec, who also is with SIU’s Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, 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.  He describes some of the medications used in treating the disease.

“ ...  those drugs include the cholinesterase inhibitors. which increase the neurotransmitter, aceocoline? in the brain – the neurotransmitters that communicate between neurons.  And among those drugs are donepezil or brand name Aricept, and there are several others.  And then there is another class of drugs, Namenda or Mematine and that acts differently than the cholinesterase inhibitors.”

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.

Ruth Slottag