Monday, August 10, 2009

Unlocking Alzheimer's

As baby boomers and their parents get older, they discover that forgetfulness becomes a natural part of aging. But when do simple lapses in memory become more than just senior moments? One UWG alumna is working to uncover the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as many as five million Americans are living with various stages of the disease, which is also the most common form of memory loss. Dr. Alexis Abramson ’94, gerontologist and Emmy award-winning journalist, said patients and caregivers often confuse Alzheimer’s disease with other forms of dementia because they all result in a loss of brain function.

“The best way to differentiate the two is to recognize that dementia is a gradual loss of intellectual functioning and Alzheimer’s is a loss of memory primarily in older adults,” she said. “Specifically, dementia is when an individual’s thinking processes deteriorate, affecting the person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer’s, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of all dementia cases, occurs among older adults and slowly controls the brain’s thoughts, memory and language areas.”

Memory loss is a symptom of vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Pick’s disease. According to Abramson, it is therefore “critical that individuals talk with their physicians and get a proper diagnosis, not only because some forms of dementia can be treated, but because they all require families to develop a plan on how to address their situation.”
A doctor may prescribe medication to help control behavioral symptoms of the disease and suggest counseling on safety practices and memory training.

“Medication and counseling may help with both cognitive and behavioral symptoms, which could minimize the effect of Alzheimer’s,” Abramson said. “This can provide patients with comfort, dignity and independence for a longer period of time.”

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