Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive condition that causes memory loss and cognitive decline. A substance known as amyloid builds up in the brain, and these areas are called plaques. The amyloid plaques are thought to decrease the brain cells’ ability to function normally and communicate with each other, thereby causing memory loss and decline in cognitive skills. This process is also known as dementia. There are many types, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. So, the term “Alzheimer’s” is often used as an umbrella in our society for any type of dementia.
Quite often, the symptoms of early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are subtle, and family members or friends may notice them before the patient. Some of these can include:
As the disease progresses, patients may begin to have difficulty performing the simple tasks of daily living such as eating, bathing and dressing. They also often lose interest in their usual activities.
If Alzheimer’s disease is suspected, a neurologist will perform a thorough medical and neurological evaluation, including a medical history of the patient and tests that evaluate thinking and memory. Blood tests and brain imaging scans may also be ordered. There is no “simple” test to detect Alzheimer’s disease. A PET/CT scan, however, can now be used along with a substance injected into the bloodstream to determine the presence of amyloid plaque. A positive scan showing this plaque may mean a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications available that are effective in slowing its progress, such as Aricept, Exelon and Namenda. There are also promising medications on the horizon that are being tested and evaluated through clinical trials.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease visit www.alz.org (Alzheimer’s Association).