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Progress Towards the Treatment and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer's Research Center

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by loss of recent memory, confusion, disorientation and sometimes a change in personality. Patients suffer from progressive degeneration and loss of brain cells and acetylcholine, the chemical messenger needed for memory.

Other causes of memory loss include deficiencies of thyroid hormone or vitamin B12; also small strokes can affect memory and cognition. These causes of memory loss can be detected with blood tests or a brain scan such as a CT or MRI.

Individuals with significant memory loss should get a thorough neurological exam to rule out other potential causes of dementia. While research is being conducted, there is currently no definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease short of an autopsy, following the death of the patient.

Patients with memory loss or confusion should be evaluated by a neurologist or by a physician familiar with dementing illnesses. If no other cause for dementia can be determined, the physician may give a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

It's normal to sometimes forget dates or names or misplace things, especially as we grow older. If the problems begin to interfere with your loved ones ability to function normally, you should consider additional help. Patients with memory loss or confusion should be evaluated by a physician familiar with dementing illnesses or by a neurologist. Early detection and treatment are important as there is a greater chance of benefiting from treatment in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's thus improving the quality of life of these individuals.

CHECKLIST OF COMMON SYMPTOMS

To help you know what warning signs to look for, the Alzheimer’s Association has developed a checklist of common symptoms (many of these also occur in other dementing illnesses). Review the list and check the symptoms that concern you. If you make several check marks, the individual with the symptoms should see a physician for a complete examination.

  • Memory Loss - Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later.
  • Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks - People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game.
  • Problems With Language - People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for “that thing for my mouth.”
  • Disorientation to Time and Place - People with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home.
  • Poor or Decreased Judgment - Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or too little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money to telemarketers.
  • Problems with Abstract Thinking – Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex tasks, like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used.
  • Misplacing Things - A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
  • Changes in Mood or Behavior - Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may show rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – for no apparent reason.
  • Changes in Personality - The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member.
  • Loss of Initiative - A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities.

Disorders Commonly Mistaken for Alzheimer's Disease

Medications for the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Alzheimer's Disease

Aricept ® (Pfizer, Inc.) - has been shown to improve the cognitive abilities of some patients and may slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. It has become the drug of choice for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. However patients treated with Aricept may decline abruptly if the medication is ever discontinued.

Exelon ® (Novartis, Inc.) - is available for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It has been proven to have a positive effect on the three main areas of overall functioning, including behavior, cognition, and activities of daily living. A skin patch form of Exelon has recently been approved, which may lessen side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Razadyne ® (Janssen, Inc.) - is also for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. It improves activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, using the bathroom, preparing meals, and using a phone; all which are things that demand much of a caregiver’s time.

Namenda ® (Forrest Pharmaceuticals) - is approved for treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It has been shown to improve ability to think, activities of daily living, and behavior. It has also been shown to provide additional benefit when taken in combination with Aricept.