Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
July kicked off national Alzheimer's disease awareness month, dedicated to the nearly 5.5 million adults in the United States suffering from the disease. A slowly progressive degenerative brain disease, Alzeheimer's disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia in older adults. The syndrome, characterized by memory loss and other cognitive problems, eventually makes everyday activities, like remembering medications or appointments, troublesome. As AD advances, memory loss becomes more severe and interferes with everyday functions. Remembering to pay bills, finding the right words, and traversing familiar neighborhoods become issues. Additionally, people with AD experience problems with reasoning and judgment. Eventually, in the later stages of the disease, sufferers struggle with basic self cares such as brushing their teeth, getting dressed, and eating. People with AD usually live for eight to 20 years after the initial diagnosis. However, symptoms are often not recognized or are ignored for several years before the diagnosis. If symptoms are ignored, a crisis cannot be avoided. For this reason, family involvement is key to catching AD at an early stage and assuring a safe and happy life. Early symptoms include the need to rely more on notes and calendars, getting lost while driving, and repeating questions and comments. The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are often predictable and are usually easier to manage in a familiar environment with a recognized caregiver. In contrast, hospitals are often disorienting and frightening for patients with AD, and symptoms of dementia may be exacerbated. Prudent health care planning improves the outpatient management of AD and limits the need for hospitalizations, which are often the result of an avoidable crisis. The University of Minnesota and the VA Medical Center are conducting research to find the cause of Alzheimer's disease. Lead by Karen Ashe, M.D., Ph.D., we study A beta molecules in the brain. Everyone produces these molecules, but when two or more of them stick together in a particular way, it can be dangerous. Such molecules may latch on to nerve cells, causing them to dysfunction and die, possibly leading to Alzheimer's. The Dementia Demonstration Project is based in seven VAs in the Upper Midwest and directed out of Minneapolis. A sample of all veterans 70 and over are screened with a simple mental status exam. For those with a positive screen, further evaluation is offered to determine whether they have dementia. The goal is to improve the recognition and diagnosis of dementia in primary care and to provide the assistance needed to manage the disease more effectively. The University of Minnesota is on the cutting edge of finding the cause of Alzheimer's disease and leading the way in promoting the early recognition of this life-altering disease. For more information on our latest research, visit www.memory.umn.edu/index. J. Riley McCarten, M.D., is assistant professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and director of the Memory Clinic and N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care.