Have you noticed a recent change in your memory? Maybe you’re simply forgetting someone’s name, misplacing an object or having trouble remembering a short list of items. Or maybe you’re failing to recall recent events or forgetting to do things such as pay bills. While some of these changes (such as misplacing an object) may be an indication of change due to the normal aging process, others could be the early warning signs of a dementia-related disorder.
These signs and symptoms could be very subtle and may not even be observed by your regular physician on routine exam. There are many causes of memory loss, including vitamin B12 deficiency, or brain, thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders. However, having these, in conjunction with several other symptoms could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the top 10 diseases Americans die from each year—and it is the only one on that list that is expanding as the other causes of death are declining. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia.
With our aging population, it is projected that 13.8 million people over the age of 65 will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050—up from 5.2 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As a result of this projection, an effort has been put forth by New York State, Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease and the Alzheimer’s Association to provide education and screening tools for family members and professionals.
The primary goal is for early detection and early intervention in the disease process. Research suggests that pharmacological and non- pharmacological treatments for Alzheimer’s disease could be more effective in the early stages of the disease as opposed to the later stages.
If you are concerned about the changes in your memory—or in the memory of a loved one—you should first speak with your primary care physician regarding your symptoms. Your physician may then make a referral to a neurologist or a specialized memory center for further evaluation, such as Burke’s Memory Evaluation and Treatment Service, an outpatient program that asses and treat memory disorder. The neurologist will perform a complete work-up including a neurological examination, laboratory tests, brain imaging and cognitive assessments.
Following review of the test results from all of the evaluations, the physician will discuss the diagnosis and possibly initiated treatment. Recommendation by your doctor may also include changes in your current diet, exercise and level of activity.
What happens after a diagnosis has been made? There is a wealth of information available through your local and government agencies, including programs like METS and the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, which provide resources for various support services within your community such as support groups, cognitive rehabilitation, clinical trials and more.
--Rosanna Cirio, MA, clinical coordinator for the Memory Evaluation and Treatment Service at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital