Every 3 seconds, someone around the world develops dementia. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, dementia is a term that describes any condition that causes deterioration over time of a number of brain functions, such as memory, recognition, language, personality and more. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 60% dementia cases. Since September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an opportunity to raise awareness Alzheimer’s and dementia, we sat down with Diana Kerwin, M.D. to talk about Alzheimer’s and understand any treatment or new research. Kerwin is chief of geriatrics at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and a member of Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders, a Texas Health Physician’s Group practice.
“Alzheimer’s disease is an accumulation of abnormal proteins called amyoid and tau,” said Kerwin. “The proteins cause the brain cells to degenerate or die, and this leads to memory loss and a decline in brain function that is diagnosed as dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.”
Alzheimer’s disease is very common in the U.S., but it is still scary to talk or think about. There is a negative stigma around the disease, because many people don’t understand it. One of the best ways to fight against stigma and better understand people with Alzheimer’s is simply learning more about the disease, which is part of the reason World Alzheimer’s Month exists. It’s important to understand that there are medications available.
“There are medications available by prescription that lessen some of the symptoms related to memory loss,” explained Kerwin. “The medications are called cholinesterase inhibitors or NMDA receptor antagonists. Also, treatment for any other medical issues such as depression, thyroid, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol or vitamin deficiencies is an important part of treatment. Counseling patients and families about the diagnosis to assist with referral to local resources for planning, safety and well-being of the person with Alzheimer’s disease is also a vital part of a comprehensive treatment plan.”
Although there is currently no cure for the disease, new research is being done. “There are new methods being developed to diagnose Alzheimer’s at early stages, and there are several new medications that are in the last phases of development,” said Kerwin. “There is also new research on the benefits of exercise, both physical and mental, along with brain-healthy foods that can help maintain memory function.”
Talking about Alzheimer’s disease should not scare or intimidate you. There are new medications and treatments to keep your mind sharp that are constantly being developed, and medications are already available that will help slow the effects of the disease. The best thing to do for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is to show them the same love and support that you’ve always given them. Do your part to spread awareness about Alzheimer’s this month so the stigma can finally go away and everyone can gain a little more knowledge about this disease.