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Alzheimer's disease: Class deals with diagnosis, prevention, warning signs

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By Ron Benningfield

For those who have loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, or perhaps wonder if they themselves could be showing signs of the disease, help is at hand.
On March 6 from 1-3 p.m., the LaRue County Extension Office in Hodgenville is hosting a presentation on “The Basics: Memory Loss, Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Sheroll Carby, community outreach coordinator with Alzheimer’s Association’s  Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana chapter, and Grace Craig with the Lincoln Trail Area Agency on Aging, will provide information for those in the community to learn more about dementia and on accessing resources to help caregivers and/or individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
“Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal disease that affects the brain and interferes with memory, thinking, planning and eventually every function controlled by the brain,” said Carby.
She noted that even though Alzheimer’s disease was first identified in 1906, it has only been within the last 20-30 years that it is a diagnosis about which many people have heard.
“Doctors are doing a better job diagnosing the disease now rather than telling people memory loss is just a part of growing older,” she said.
As life expectancy has increased, however, so has the incidence of those who have Alzheimer’s disease.
“We are currently on a trajectory with the aging of the baby boomers in which it is expected that there will be 15 million individuals with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050,” she said. “With resources already stretched, such an increase will be catastrophic for families and our health care system unless we find a way to prevent or cure the disease.”
No miracle cures
Though no miracle drugs are out there to cure Alzheimer’s, Carby said the available drugs can be beneficial for about 50 percent of the people who take them to help keep their cognitive functioning plateaued for a longer period of time.
“There are currently five FDA-approved drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.
“Though 10 years have passed since there’s been a new FDA approved drug, currently over 130 clinical studies are going on in the U.S.”
The class will include discussion about the medications and the studies that are going on and how people can be involved.
Though most people might tend to think of dementia as a disease of the elderly, Carby said the changes in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease can begin as many as 20 years before onset of the first symptoms.
“In addition to finding a cure, a big focus of the Alzheimer’s Association is to find ways to prevent individuals from developing it in the first place,” she said. “At the workshop we will be discussing some of what we have learned from current research about some of the most effective ways to preserve cognitive function.”
As to the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, Carby compared dementia to soups of which Alzheimer’s is one type. Accounting for about 60-70 percent of all dementias and the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s is the largest category of dementia.
“During the class, we will discuss several of the most common forms of dementia in addition to Alzheimer’s,” she said.
For those common forms, age is the biggest risk factor and the probability of developing the disease increases the older a person is. Carby said that at age 65, one in nine individuals has Alzheimer’s and by the age of 85, one in three is affected.
“However, we are beginning to see more individuals in their 40’s and 50’s who have developed what is known as ‘Younger Onset Alzheimer’s,’” she said. “In fact, anyone diagnosed before the age of 65 is considered Younger Onset.”
Younger onset Alzheimer’s accounts for about 4 percent of the more than five million people who have been diagnosed with the disease. More than 200,000 people have been diagnosed before they turned 65 years old.
Warning signs
Carby said all people have instances in which they forget things and she acknowledges it can be worrisome, especially if they’ve watched a loved one struggle with this disease.
“The 10 warning signs can be found on our website www.alz.org; however, individuals should be concerned if the changes in their memory begin to affect their daily life,” she said.
“If someone is concerned about cognitive changes, they should definitely discuss it with their physician.”
She added that if they feel as though their physician isn’t listening, they should seek a second opinion.
“People should also know that as a part of Medicare’s annual wellness visit, physicians can check for cognitive impairment,” she said.
Her organization’s website has much information about Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Most of it is written, noted Carby, with the caregiver or person with dementia in mind, so it is not heavy on technical jargon. Additionally, the site has information on the practical aspects of planning ahead and caring for someone with dementia.
“Those who have dementia can learn more at the ‘I have Alzheimer’s disease’ section of the website, https://www.alz.org/i-have-alz/i-have-alzheimers-dementia.asp and can connect with others who have the disease through www.alzconnected.org,” she said.
Theresa Howard, LaRue county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, said the last time the extension office had a program on the topic of Alzheimer’s and dementia was about seven years ago.
“When I was contacted by Sheroll about coming out to do presentations in counties outside of Louisville, I wanted to help get resource knowledge shared here locally in LaRue County,” said Howard. “Grace can help inform everyone on what services we have in the region that may be of help to families dealing with this issue.”
Howard said no registration is required for attending the workshop. She added that if enough interest is shown, she will schedule more sessions with these speakers to cover other topics related to Alzheimer’s and dementia, perhaps evolving into a local support group for families affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s.
For more information, call Howard at 270-358-3401 or e-mail tahoward@uky.edu.