November Is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
Surprising Facts You Might Not Know
Although Alzheimer’s affects approximately 1 in every 2 families in the U.S., and has been extensively covered in the media, there’s still quite a bit of information about Alzheimer’s that you might not be aware of.
Dennis Fortier, president and CEO of Medical Care Corporation, which specializes in helping physicians evaluate patients’ memory and cognitive functions, writes in Caring.com (https://www.caring.com/articles/alzheimers-awareness-month), an online resource for caregivers of older adults, that there are numerous vital facts about Alzheimer’s that you might not know—and that might surprise you. Here is a summary:
Alzheimer’s is usually detected at the end-stage of the disease. On average, Alzheimer’s follows a 14-year course from the onset symptoms until death. Surprisingly, we usually diagnose Alzheimer’s in years 8-10 of the disease course. We diagnose Alzheimer’s disease far too late to optimize the effects of available treatments.
Memory loss is not a part of normal aging. Many patients with symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease do not seek treatment—partly because they dismiss those symptoms are being the normal and untreatable effects of aging. A startling number of doctors incorrectly believe that memory loss is inevitable with age. Be aware that memory loss is not a part of normal aging and timely medical intervention is critical.
Current Alzheimer’s drugs may be more effective than you think. One reason that current treatments are often deemed ineffective is that they are prescribed for patients with end-stage disease and massive brain damage. With earlier intervention, treatment can be given to patients with healthier brains, who will likely respond more vigorously. A great start would be to intervene earlier with the treatments we have.
Alzheimer’s disease can be treated. With a good diet, physical exercise, social engagement, and certain drugs, many patients (especially those detected at an early stage) can meaningfully alter the course of Alzheimer’s and preserve their quality of life. Be aware that “we have no cure” does not mean “there is no treatment.”
Better drug treatments for Alzheimer’s are on the way. Some very promising drugs, based on sound theoretical approaches, are in FDA clinical trials right now. It is possible that an effective agent is already in the pipeline.
Taking care of your heart will help your brain stay healthy. Brain health is very closely tied to the health of your body, particularly your heart. Researchers have shown that high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity contribute to greater risk for cognitive decline. Be aware that maintaining good vascular health will help you age with cognitive vitality.
Managing risk factors may delay or prevent cognitive decline. Well-identified risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include diabetes, head injuries, smoking, poor diet, lethargy, and isolation. All of these risks are manageable, and publicizing them is one purpose of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Be aware that many risk factors for Alzheimer’s can be actively managed to reduce the likelihood of cognitive problems as you age.