According to a Washington Post article of October 1, 2013, approximately five million people suffer from Alzheimers disease in the United States. The disease is frequently misdiagnosed and confused with dementia. Although the symptoms may be similar, treatment is different.
Alzheimers disease is caused by the depositing of protein fragments called beta amyloid in the spaces between the nerve cells. Typically that could only be diagnosed through an autopsy. Now with increased scan capability, there are PET scans which with the use of radioactive dye will show the presence of amyloid plaques. The use of this dye has been approved by the FDA. The scans however are not covered by Medicare. The scans themselves can cost $3,000 to $4,000. If the scan is negative that does rule out Alzheimer’s. If the scan is positive i.e. showing the presence of the amyloids, that does not necessarily mean that the person has Alzheimer’s but it certainly is suggestive of a tendency to develop it. Any such results must be coordinated with the clinical findings.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimers
There are several recognized signs/symptoms of Alzheimers disease:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life that is more than just sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.
- Change in ability to plan or solve problems that is more significant than occasionally making errors when balancing a checkbook.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words either in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased judgment that is more serious than making that one bad decision once in a while.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
Confusion with Arteriosclerosis
Arteriosclerosis is simply a hardening of the arteries where the blood flow is restricted. That restricted blood flow means that less oxygen is getting to the brain. Less oxygen to the brain may create symptoms that mimic those of Alzheimers and dementia. If the patient’s condition is simply arteriosclerosis, that may involve diet changes or medication that is entirely different than what may be prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Available Drug Treatments for Alzheimers Disease
At present there are five different Alzheimers disease drugs including Aricept and Exelon. Both of these drugs however have limited effectiveness as they treat the symptoms of cognitive impairment and only stave off a decline for no more than a year.
Eight different drugs over the last 13 years have been tested to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. All of them have been rejected. There are other drugs that being run through trials to determine their effectiveness. At least one of the trials is going to consist of people who may be predisposed to Alzheimer’s but are not currently showing any signs of such. It is hoped that a trial of this nature will be more effective in showing the merits of this particular drug.