Dementia is defined as a progressive loss of memory and mental capacity that is usually experienced by people as they get older, though there isn't any predetermined age in which such a condition can strike. Dementia is a slow, progressive disease process that can exhibit signs and symptoms for months, or even years. Of all the types of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is by far the most prevalent. Almost 70% of dementia cases are diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease, and the word has spread far and wide with its alarming, irreversible and dehabilitating consequences.
Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease that affects the brain and results in gradual memory loss of both long-term and short-term memory capabilities, as well as personality change and impaired ability to reason and think. It isn't difficult for a physician to diagnose dementia, and several tests will help determine whether or not you or a loved one might be experiencing early stage Alzheimer's. The disease affects people differently, as well as their life expectancy after diagnosis. Some people decline rapidly while others don't. Some people live only a few years after diagnosis, while others live twenty or more years with the disease. Today, roughly four million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the United States alone. It is most common in people over 65 years of age, though people in their forties and fifties have been diagnosed with it as well. For about 10% of those diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in their forties and fifties, there is a family history of the disease present.
While much progress has been made to understand what Alzheimer's disease is and how it affects the human body, it isn't yet exactly clear what causes it, nor has a drug been developed that will cure it. It's well understood that a combination of brain cell death and a lack of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine causes symptoms of Alzheimer's.
People these days are desperate to find a way to prevent or slow the onslaught of Alzheimer's, but studies are slow to show progress. Some recent studies tend to show that daily doses of a nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drug may reduce chances of being stricken with the disease, but results are non-definitive to date. One thing is certain, however, despite common rumor, and to the contrary, Prempro or Premarin hormone therapy does not prevent the disease. Another common rumor is that the herb ginkgo may help to reduce the chance of succumbing to the disease, but again, results aren't definitive.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease are encouraged by doctors to remain as active as possible in order to help prevent a rapid decline of mental acuity. Social interaction, stimulation and regular forms of exercise will help keep brain cells active. Maintaining a schedule may help patients maintain cognitive levels longer, as well as the creation of notes or small signs throughout the home to help with visual-cognitive functions.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer's in a loved one is a terrible blow. There are no easy answers on how to deal with the disease. Information is knowledge, however, and the more we know about the how's and whys of the disease, the better equipped we will be to help care for those diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
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