What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most common form of dementia, affecting more than five million Americans over the age of 65, and approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 who are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is characterized by problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. If you or someone you care for has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to learn about the disease and it’s different stages so that you can get the right treatment and support.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?
If an individual suspects that they have Alzheimer’s disease, getting diagnosed in a timely manner is important so that other potential conditions or causes can be ruled out and important decisions about treatment, support and care can be made. Diagnosis is typically performed by a doctor’s examination, where the patient undergoes various tests to assess the signs and symptoms that they are exhibiting.
When evaluating someone for Alzheimer’s disease, the doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation of the individual's medical history, symptoms, cognitive abilities, and functional abilities. This may involve tests to assess a person's memory, thinking skills, and behavior, as well as conversations with friends or family members who can provide additional information about the individual's symptoms. Once this is complete, additional tests may be necessary to help rule out other causes of memory loss or cognitive impairment.
Who can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is usually diagnosed by a primary care provider, a neurologist (a doctor specializing in conditions of the brain), or a geriatrician (a doctor specializing in conditions affecting older adults). The doctor will evaluate a patient’s symptoms, medical history, and current medications.
After the initial tests and examination, the doctor may request additional laboratory tests, detailed memory testing, or brain imaging tests. Together, this information can help to rule out other conditions and result in an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?
Because Alzheimer’s disease is complex, with lots of different (and often unknown) causes, there isn’t one drug or treatment that works for everyone affected by the disease. However, scientists have made a lot of progress in recent years, and there are now several treatments available that can help patients manage their Alzheimer’s symptoms. Most of the treatments currently available are most effective for patients with mild or moderate-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
What Alzheimer’s disease treatments are currently available?
One type of drug that has been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is “cholinesterase inhibitors”, including galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil. It’s important to understand that these drugs can’t reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, or repair the parts of the brain that become damaged by the disease. However, they can reduce some of the symptoms relating to memory loss, thinking, language, and judgement.
While cholinesterase inhibitors can improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, they can’t prevent the disease from progressing. However, there is a new drug that has been shown to do that - Aducanumab. This drug was only recently approved by the FDA in 2021, and is the first drug that has been shown to reduce the size of brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is important to note that Aducanumab is not a cure for Alzheimer’s and it does not work for everyone. It can also cause side effects, such as headaches and swelling in the brain, which can be severe in some cases. Patients should talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks of Aducanumab before starting treatment.
Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease at this stage. The good news is that many major pharmaceutical companies in the US are heavily investing in Alzheimer’s research, and there are currently more than 400 active clinical trials relating to Alzheimer’s research and different potential drugs and therapies.
With funding for Alzheimer’s disease research at an all-time high, patients and caregivers alike can be hopeful for more diagnostic tools, treatment options, and a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease in the coming years.