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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

Is it normal memory loss or Alzheimer’s?

RoseannMartocciaHeadshotRoseann MartocciaNovember is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. It is chilling to reflect on the fact that more than 3 million individuals in our country have Alzheimer's disease. According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US death rate from Alzheimer's disease increased by 55% for the 15 years from 1999 to 2014. However, the report results should not be cause for alarm.

"As the population ages and people are living longer due to other medical advances and improved health care, they are more likely to develop dementia like Alzheimer's. It's a disease of brain aging,” said Dr. Stuart Anfang, chief of Adult Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center, who oversees the hospital's Memory Disorders Program.

The CDC report cites possible reasons for the increase in deaths: a growing older population, diagnosis at earlier stages, better reporting to doctors and involved practitioners along with fewer deaths from causes such as heart disease and stroke. 

Dr. Anfang offers five items to increase your understanding of the disease:

  1. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Other causes of dementia include cerebrovascular disease, Parkinson's disease, fronto-temporal dementia and certain infections. A thorough evaluation is important as some conditions are reversible and treatable such as depression, low thyroid levels, and certain vitamin deficiencies.
  2. Primary care physicians are a good place to start the evaluation process. This would include a physical, mental status evaluation, cognitive screening exam, initial lab tests and sometimes brain imaging using an MRI.
  3. There are no medications that can cure or reverse Alzheimer's. However, there are medications that can slow the progression of functional impairment and improve the quality of life.
  4. The prevalence of Alzheimer's dementia increase with age. Approximately 2-3% of 70 year olds have Alzheimer's while about 16% of 80 year olds have some degree of Alzheimer's dementia. The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease doubles for persons aged 85-90.
  5. Mild symptoms of cognitive loss are associated with normal aging or mild impairment. Not all memory loss is due to Alzheimer's or other dementia.

We salute the care and support provided by primary caregivers of persons with dementia. Alzheimer's requires the care, support and supervision by caregivers regardless of setting. Caregivers do so much and you are not alone. Reach out for the support you need to take care of yourself and get the help you need to care for your loved one. Contact LifePath for services designed to help caregivers, including dementia coaching, the Alzheimer's Music Project, dementia support group and in-home supports.

The Alzheimer's Association offers resources for caregivers as well.