Alzheimer's Disease: Demographics, Risk Factors and Treatments
The Dark Ages of Dementia Treatment
As a psychology assistant, I first came into contact with clients and patients suffering from Alzheimer's Disease (AD) in the late 1980s, before Alzheimer's care centers began to open in my state. In this large Midwestern city, Alzheimer's diagnosis and treatment were in the beginning stages and care giving was left to family members, whose health suffered under the load.
Pharmaceutical companies as yet offered no medications for the illness and only inconclusive "tests" were available. The only certain diagnosis at the time for the disease was autopsy of the brain. We had a lot of guesswork and passing the buck - mostly to families that were not equipped at all for the task of care giving.
Patients' families were encouraged - at times, almost bullied - into taking care of these patients at home. This was cruel and ineffective, because it resulted in a high incidence of illness among relatives, because of the stresses and overwork involved. Some family members lost their jobs or quit and enrolled in public assistance to be able to care for these relatives, for whom they did not know what to do. It was one of the most cruel systems I have witnessed.
Some Alzheimer's-afflicted patients would wander the streets, lost at night in their nightgowns. Others would become violent, attacking and injuring their caregivers, and set fire to houses, but the health and medical community turned a blind eye toward these problems. The justice system intervened in many cases and jailed some of these patients, sending others to the State Institute for commitment.
Support groups were founded to help the caregivers in the community, when they could get away from their patients. Few other family members stepped up to help and home heathcare was expensive as well as full of aides that had no idea how to cope with Alzheimer's. Finally, some valid testing and medications came into development. Alzheimer's Care Centers were established. In 2010, the diagnosis and treatment of the disease is on a professional footing.
Demographics of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's generally affects older individuals (specifically the oldest old, over 80), although instances as young as 25 have been seen in the case of familial Alzheimer's ("it runs in the family").
The risk of the disease increases with increasing age. Individuals with mental retardation also seem more susceptible.
Information from the Mayo Clinic presents some solid demographic statistics about whom this disease affects:
- Age 65 to 74 - approximately 5% of people have Alzheimer's disease
- Age 85 and older - Almost 50% have Alzheimer's.
- Women are more likely than men to suffer this disease, but partially because they live longer. Gender may have nothing else to do with it.
- Studies show that the lesser-educated are at greater risk for Alzheimer's. The reasons for this are unclear and difficult to pinpoint.
By 2010, physicians could diagnose Alzheimer's before death with 90% accuracy. The other 10% still require brain autopsy. By 2017, blood tests for diagnosis became useful.
Overall, the average Alzheimer's patient would most likely be a woman over 80 years old and less educated than other women of the same age.
Since women live longer than men in America overall, the diseases and conditions of aging have often been thought of as older women's diseases. They have sometimes been given less attention and research support in the past than "men's diseases" or those that affect both genders more evenly (like H1N1).
Descriptive Statistics: Alzheimer's in America through 2012
- We have 5,300,000+ cases of Alzheimer's among a nation of 300,000,000+ people, or about 1.2% of the total population.
- In the year 2010, we will have nearly 500,000 new cases every year; by 2050, we will incur 1,000,000 new cases per year. Every 70 seconds, another individual in America develops Alzheimer's Disease.
- We have 9,900,000 unpaid caregivers in 2009 attempting to maintain Alzheimer's patients in the home. Thus, the disease directly and seriously affects over 15,000,000 people or 5% of the population.
- We incur a cost of $148,000,000,000 every year in medical costs associated with these patients.
- Read about the newer Research: Middle Age Diet Can Prevent Alzheimer's
NIH Fact Sheet
Effectiveness of Medication Use
These drugs improve the numbers of neurotransmitters in the brain, but do not work for everyone - only about 50%. Side effects include include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that patients sometimes cannot tolerate - they stop taking the drug.
Memantine or Namenda
This drug treats moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's by protecting brain cells from damage caused by glutamate. The drug is sometimes combined with a cholinesterase inhibitor. Memantine side effects include dizziness, agitation, and delusional behavior.
Adjunct, or alternative medicine treatments that may work for some patients include natural substances like Vitamin E, Ginko, and Huperzine A that is made form a Chinese club moss. Any of these substances may interfere with medications prescribed by a healthcare provider and should be reported to that person for consideration.
All of these medications are helping Alzheimer's patients stay at home for a longer period of time. However, if the family caregivers cannot handle this, they need to report it to their healthcare providers and seek additional help, even hospitalization or placement in an Alzheimer's Care Center or a wing of a retirement community that provides such services.
A University of Alberta researcher has potentially unlocked the key to curing Alzheimer's disease using a drug (AC253) originally designed to treat diabetes.— Edmonton Sun, February 2011
- Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center of the National Institute on Aging
- Alzheimer's Foundation of America
- Alzheimer's Association
The Alzheimers Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimers disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all aff
- Alzheimer's Disease research. www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/ Retrieved August 5, 2017.
- Alzheimer's Research Center at Saint Paul, Minnesota. www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/ Retrieved July 28, 2017.
- Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research. www.alzinfo.org/ Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- Franklin, J. U of A researcher eyes potential Alzheimer's cure. Edmonton Sun. February 3, 2011.
- Johns Hopkins Alzheimer's Research Center. www.alzresearch.org/ Retrieved August 5, 2017.
- Stanford University/VA Alzheimer's Research Center. svalz.stanford.edu/ Retrieved July 27, 2017.