November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
Here is some current information about the disease submitted by Meredith Rogers, RN with geriatricnursing.org
Also see: Alzheimer’s Association
for more info.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a condition that is misunderstood by the general public. In addition, the press often reports on many preliminary research findings (many of them of speculative and not reproduced) that adds to these misconceptions. Here are some facts about AD as we understand it currently:
First, Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease. There has been a great deal of speculation concerning its cause; however, no research has been able to definitively identify a cause for AD. So if you read about certain causes of AD please understand that at the time of this writing there are no known definite causes (except perhaps for a rare familial form of AD), but there are a number of known risk factors that contribute to the probability of developing AD. Risk factors are not direct causes, but instead are contributory factors that add to the possibility that a person can develop a condition. There is an identifiable brain pathology associated with AD, but there is no known definitive cause for this pathology.
Second, despite what you may have read or heard, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is not 100% certain unless there has been a brain biopsy or an autopsy of the patient. At this time the pathology associated with AD can only be definitively identified via a histological examination of the brain. Clinicians can be quite accurate in the diagnosis (upwards of 90% accurate), but there are no tests or brain scanning techniques that can definitively diagnose AD at this time. Laboratory tests, medical examinations, neuropsychological testing, and brain scans can rule out other potential causes that mimic AD and help support the probable diagnosis of AD, but are not 100% accurate at the time of this writing.
Third, there is no cure for AD. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive dementia (gets worse over time) and is 100% fatal (although a number of elderly patients may die from other complications or conditions before succumbing to AD). What this means that if a person is diagnosed with AD it is akin to giving that person a death sentence. That is why it is very important to have a thorough examination of the patient if AD is suspected. Moreover, there are a number of other conditions that are reversible and can mimic dementia. Only a thorough examination can rule these out. The average expected lifespan for a person diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease is about seven to eight years. The course of AD can last anywhere from one to twenty years; however, only two to three percent will live longer than fifteen years.
Fourth, there is no way to certainly predict if a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, there have been a number of very interesting studies using PET scanning (Positron Emission Tomography, a brain imaging technique that helps determine certain levels of brain activity) and other brain scanning techniques that demonstrate promise in identifying individuals at risk to develop AD; however, these at risk individuals do not all develop dementia.
Five, Alzheimer’s disease appears to have several subtypes. As we learn more about the brain and its disorders new discoveries are being made every day that add to our knowledge. AD does not appear to have the same progression in every individual and in part this may reflect either the different subtypes of AD or normal individual variation. Thus, when this article or any article describes the progression of AD please remember that these are generalities. As with any disease there is individual variation in the symptoms and presentation related to disease onset, course, and progression. If you would like to learn more about this disease take a look at the in-depth article here.