Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative condition characterized by loss of structure or function in the brain’s neurons (nerve cells). In order to form a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, which is the most common type of dementia, doctors may ask about family health history. The physician may also want to speak directly with family and friends who may indicate signs of change in prior mental function and behavior.
As a means to determine the severity of the condition, mental testing has been used to observe the progress of the disease - mild; early stage, moderate; middle stage and severe; late stage. Mental tests may target memory, problem solving and language skills. Two standard lab tests include blood and urine samples. Testing the blood and urine may determine whether the symptoms are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Family physicians are a significant contact for individuals managing Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stage. FPs have insight on people’s record of Alzheimer’s related symptoms.
In addition, there are currently not any medications curing Alzheimer’s or targeting the progression of the disease. But there are medications to reduce symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. Both types of medications treat symptoms of the disease including memory loss, confusion and thinking. Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne are cholinesterase inhibitors. Namenda is a type of memantine medication which improves mental function and maintains glutamate activity in individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. Glutamate refers to a chemical connected with processing, storing and retrieving information.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, the caretaker’s role will also increase. Establish a routine but anticipate for flexibility. Some days may be particularly frustrating for the individual, however if there is opportunity for the individual to perform tasks independently - do so. Provide choices as well as clear and simple instructions for the person with Alzheimer’s. Each individual experiences the progression of the disease differently. Building patience for the process and expecting possible challenges ahead may draw an understanding between caretaker and the person with Alzheimer’s.
“Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis and Tests.” Cleveland Clinic, 2019, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9164-alzheimers-disease/diagnosis-and-tests.
“Alzheimer's Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350453.
“Medications for Memory.” Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia, 2019, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/treatments/medications-for-memory.