June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Dr. Imran Ali with Bridgeport Hospital talks about what to look for if you or a loved one is diagnosed.
How do we diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease?
Dr. Ali: Alzheimer’s Disease is part of many syndromes hat we call dementia. Dementia is basically any disorder that can lead to difficulties with memory or information processing in our brains. We simply cannot diagnose dementia including Alzheimer’s by a CT Scan or Blood Test yet although researchers are looking into potential biomarkers or proteins in blood we are a long ways of from that. Alzheimer’s disease is what we call a diagnosis of exclusion meaning that we have to investigate all other reasons why your brain may not be functioning normally. There are many simple and even reversible things that your doctor will test for such as Vitamin B12 deficiency, Hearing Problems and Thyroid problems. Believe it or not sometime what we call dementia in our older relatives maybe something as simple as a loss of hearing where the brain is missing parts of conversation and doesn’t have the information it needs to process in the first place. The Alzheimer’s Foundation has a list of simple signs that you should not ignore because you cannot assume that memory loss is part of “normal aging”.
1. Forgetting names or the need to write everything down
2. Difficulty doing puzzles that you once used to do or difficulty with balancing a budget
3. Confusion about the day of the week
4. Word Finding (Calling a pen a “writing thing”)
5. Finding it difficult to adapt when your routine is disrupted
I just got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. What can I do about it and how long does it take for the disease to progress?
Dr. Ali: Picking it up early is key as that is when some of the treatments that we have out there can make a difference in slowing down the progression of the disease. Remember, though you can never reverse the disease, you can only slow it down. The drugs that we have now work on increasing a neurotransmitter called Acetylcholine and also by modulating levels of Glutamate. These drugs do not work in advanced disease. Usually from diagnosis Alzheimers can reach advanced levels between 3-10 years. Also there are studies that show that cognitive rehab or engaging the mind can help slow progression as well as losing weight.
I have Alzheimer’s in my family what can I do?
Dr. Ali: If you have a first degree family member who was diagnosed or died from Alzheimer’s early say before the age of 65 and then in those cases your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor for possible testing for the Presenilin Gene but this is like testing for Breast Cancer genes and it is something that you need to discuss with your doctor and family. Frankly the science is developing but genetic testing is a personal decision it can cause enough psychological distress that that it may not be worth it. Looking for early signs may be just as effective.