Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) affects approximately five million people in America. It is the most common cause of dementia, a disorder in which cognitive functions deteriorate. While the disease is more common in people over 65, several hundred thousand people in their 40's or 50's can suffer from early-onset AD, other types of dementia, or age related-cognitive difficulties.

A nationally recognized team who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's is available at the Scott & White Neuroscience Institute in Temple, Texas. Our medical professionals include neurologists and neuropsychologists. Working together, they can help determine if you have Alzheimer's or possibly another type of dementia.

Despite its growing prevalence, the causes of AD are still unclear. There are still numerous questions about the disease and its impact on patients and their families that have yet to be fully understood.

In the section below, you find frequently asked questions and their answers that may offer you a better understanding of AD, including its prevention, warning signs, diagnosis and treatment.

Related: Tips for Maintaining Your Brain Health

Contact the Scott & White Neuroscience Institute at 254-724-4179 for specific information on the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Alzheimer's Disease (AD)?

Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that occurs when nerve cells in the brain die, often resulting in:

    * Impaired memory, thinking and behavior
    * Confusion
    * Restlessness
    * Personality and behavior changes
    * Impaired judgment
    * Impaired communication
    * Inability to follow directions
    * Language deterioration
    * Impaired thought processes involving visual and spatial awareness
    * Emotional apathy

Note: Motor function is often preserved.

How is it different from other dementias?

AD is distinguished from other dementias affecting personality and motor skills by characteristic changes in the brain, such as:

    * Fiber tangles within nerve cells
    * Clusters of degenerating nerve endings
    * Reduced production of certain brain chemicals necessary for communication between nerve cells

What causes Alzheimer's Disease (AD)?

Its specific cause remains unknown. Suspected causes and risk factors include:

    * Age and family history
    * Certain genes
    * Abnormal protein deposits in the brain
    * Other risk and environmental factors
    * Immune system problems

Are there warning signs or symptoms?

Each individual patient may experience symptoms differently. Common ones may include:

    * Memory loss that affects job skills
    * Difficulty performing familiar tasks
    * Problems with language
    * Disorientation to time and place
    * Poor or decreased judgment
    * Problems with abstract thinking
    * Misplacing things
    * Changes in mood or behavior
    * Changes in personality
    * Loss of initiative

Note: These symptoms may mimic other medical conditions or problems. Consult your physician for more information.

How is Alzheimer's Disease (AD) diagnosed?

Examination and evaluation are essential in determining whether the dementia is the result of a treatable illness. The Neuroscience Institute at Scott & White has a team of professionals who can diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease. This team includes neurologists and neuropsychologists.

Here's a typical scenario: A neuropsychologist will be asked to perform a thorough cognitive evaluation of your memory and other brain abilities. This evaluation will help determine if your symptoms are related to AD, a different type of dementia or age-related cognitive problems.

The neuropsychologist then sends a report to the neurologist regarding diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Once reviewed and approved, the neuropsychologist will review this information with you and your family.

Diagnostic medical procedures for AD may include:

    * Blood tests
    * Mental status tests
    * Electroencephalogram (EEG) - a procedure that records the brain's continuous, electrical activity by means of electrodes attached to the scalp

What about treatment for Alzheimer's Disease (AD)?

Specific treatment for AD is determined by your healthcare provider based on:

    * Your age, overall health and medical history
    * Extent of the illness
    * Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
    * Expectations for the course of the disease
    * Your opinion or preference

Currently, there is no cure for for the condition. However, there are medications available that can slow the progression of the disease. There are also some medications available to assist in managing some of the most troubling symptoms--such as depression, behavioral disturbance or sleeplessness.

Can Alzheimer's Disease (AD) patients regain lost skills through rehabilitation?

Presently, the disease's progression is irreversible. However, the care giving team must keep in mind the following:

    * In managing the disease, physical exercise and social activity are important, as are proper nutrition and health maintenance.
    * Plan daily activities that help to provide structure, meaning and accomplishment for the individual.
    * As functions are lost, adapt activities and routines to allow the individual to participate as much as possible.
    * Keep activities familiar and satisfying.
    * As much as possible, allow the individual to complete as many things as possible independently. The caregiver many need to initiate the activity, then allow the individual to complete it to the best of his/her ability.
    * Provide "cues" for desired behavior (i.e., label drawers/cabinets/closets according to their contents).
    * Keep the individual out of harm's way by removing all safety risks, such as car keys or matches.
    * As a caregiver, whether full or part-time, understand your own physical and emotional limitations.

Is Alzheimer's Disease (AD) preventable?

Research shows that help in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer's may be achieved by:

    * Consistent, aerobic exercise
    * A healthy diet
    * Activities that challenge your brain
    * Keeping your blood pressure within normal limits

Learn More

Visit the Alzheimer's Association website for more information about Alzheimer's disease, including coping with the disease, helping others who have it, and spreading the word about it.

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Sally Borucki
Jeffrey W. Clark
George B. Creel