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SmartHealthToday: Nearly 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, exacts a devastating toll

By Shelly Reese

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. At the time fewer than 2 million Americans suffered from Alzheimer’s. Today the number has soared to nearly 5.4 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and that number is likely to triple by 2050.

Despite the disease’s increasing toll, many Americans are still unaware of Alzheimer’s devastating toll.

“The aging population is growing at a faster rate than in previous years,” notes Dr. Lindsay Pattison, a neurologist with St. Elizabeth Physicians. “People are living longer, and thus, neurodegenerative diseases are becoming more prevalent. It is increasingly important to understand the difference between the normal aging process and concerns for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia.”


While people associate Alzheimer’s with memory loss, many Americans are unaware that Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and that deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 71 percent from 2000 to 2013, a period during which deaths from other major diseases including breast and prostate cancers, heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS, decreased.
The importance of early detection

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, or even a treatment to change the underlying course of the disease, early detection is important.

“While there are multiple medications available for Alzheimer’s dementia on the market, it is important to set realistic expectations,” says Pattison. “None of the memory medications are miracle treatments. The goal of all memory medications is to slow the progression over time. Thus, early implementation is key in long-term treatment in patients who are confirmed to have Alzheimer’s dementia.”

Early detection also provides Alzheimer’s patients with an opportunity to make estate and care plans while they are still capable and may enable them to make accommodations so they can delay placement in a nursing home, thus reducing their long-term health care costs.
Are there any risk factors?

Finally, Pattison says, it’s important to understand that while there are many risk factors (including age, family history and genetics) that can’t be changed, there are other factors that can be influenced. Growing evidence links the health of the brain to the health of the heart, hence a healthy diet, physical exercise and social engagement – activities that promote overall well-being – can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Head trauma is also believed to increase the future risk of Alzheimer’s so taking measure to protect your brain – such as wearing seatbelts and wearing protective headgear when participating in sports – are important ways to protect yourself.

“Although research continues and the medical community is always working toward advancements, the research is limited.  Education about warning signs for neurodegenerative processes and early intervention remains our goal when targeting management of Alzheimer’s long-term,” she says.

SmartHealthToday is a service of St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

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