HCN News & Notes

Is It Alzheimer’s or Just Normal Memory Loss?

SPRINGFIELD — It’s a chilling fact: more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. And, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. death rate from Alzheimer’s disease increased 55{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} between 1999 and 2014.

While Americans view Alzheimer’s as a major health threat and rate it as the second-most-feared disease behind only cancer, the new report shouldn’t cause panic, said Dr. Stuart Anfang, chief of Adult Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center, who oversees the hospital’s Memory Disorders Program.

“As the population ages and people are living longer due to other medical advances and improved healthcare, they are more likely to develop dementias like Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease of brain aging,” he said.

The CDC report, released top coincide with Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June, cites possible reasons for the increase in deaths as a growing older population, diagnosis at earlier stages, better reporting by physicians and others, and fewer deaths from other causes for the elderly, such as heart disease and stroke.

Anfang offered five things you should know about Alzheimer’s to help you better understand this important condition:

• Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other causes of dementia include cerebrovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, fronto-temporal dementia, and certain infections. There are also reversible conditions (like depression, low thyroid levels, or certain vitamin deficiencies) that may look like dementia, but can be treated. So, a thorough evaluation is important.

• Your primary-care physician can do an initial evaluation for dementia. This would include a physical and mental status examination, cognitive screening exam, some basic lab tests, and often brain imaging like MRI.

• While there are no current medications that cure or reverse Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications that can slow the progression of functional impairment, improving quality of life and delaying the need for higher levels of care like nursing homes. These medications include donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda).

• The prevalence of Alzheimer’s dementia increases with age. About 2{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 3{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of 70-year-olds have Alzheimer’s. Around one in six 80-year-olds have some degree of Alzheimer’s dementia, and the prevalence is doubled by the age of 85 to 90.

• Not all memory difficulties are due to Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Mild symptoms may be associated with normal aging or mild impairment.

The Alzheimer’s Assoc. offers two additional documents on Alzheimer’s and dementia on its website, alz.org: “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s” and “10 Ways To Love Your Brain,” which offers tips on how to recognize symptoms and how to reduce your risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits.

If you notice any of these 10 early signs, make an appointment to talk to your primary-care doctor, who, after an evaluation may refer you to a doctor who specializes in dementia evaluation, such as the Baystate Memory Disorders Program. To make an appointment with a specialist in the program, call (413) 794-5555.

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