Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. As the disease progresses, brain cells die and connections among cells are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition with symptoms that usually develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s usually begins after age 60. Risk increases with age and with a family history of the disease.
The disease begins slowly, first involving the part of the brain that controls thought, memory and language. People with Alzheimer’s exhibit difficulty remembering things that happened recently or names of people they know well. As the disease progresses, people may not recognize family members or have difficulty speaking, reading or writing. They may forget how to perform basic tasks such as brushing their teeth or hair. They may become anxious or aggressive or begin to wander away from home. Eventually, they need full-time supervision and care.
People are often devastated to hear an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Patients and family members alike tend to know that the disease will likely cause them to face a hard road ahead. There are, however, some medications that can make a difference in the progression of the disease. They can’t stop the disease, but they can improve the quality of a patient’s life and impact their ability to stay home, out of more supervised situations, for longer.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved two types of medications to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease: cholinesterase inhibitors, (Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne are in common use), and memantine (Namenda), all of which can stabilize the symptoms of the disease for a time or slow their progression — but can’t stop the damage the disease causes to brain cells.
When it comes to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, one of the most important things a family can do is be prepared for the future.
Charlottesville offers an active chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association as well as resources available through the Jefferson Area Board of Aging. Some of the information these groups offer includes legal and safety issues, including getting a power of attorney; drafting an advance healthcare directive; and getting a Safe Return bracelet, which can help a patient who has wandered return home safely.
Related information: http://www.marthajefferson.org/patient-info-advance.php