National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

November has been designated National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. It is a time to spread awareness about this disease that affects nearly two million Americans today. An estimated five million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to increase to 60 million by 2050 in the U.S. alone. What is more distressing isn’t the fact that it is an incurable disease or that there are limited treatment options, but that Alzheimer’s disease has an insidious onset, often not being recognized until it is too late.

More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease; a chronic neurodegenerative disease characterized by difficulty remembering recent events and other cognitive shortcomings. For the most part, the cause of the disease is still mostly unknown. However, a new study shows that the brain structure of some individuals may make them resilient to the condition. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is not a part of normal aging. However, the greatest risk factor for its development is increased age. The majority of those affected by the condition are 65 and older. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not well understood but is believed to be due to a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurogenerative condition that results in a loss of cognitive ability. These symptoms develop slowly over the years, making it quite difficult to recognize early on. It is this lack of early recognition that limits treatment options, resulting in poorer outcomes. Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age . Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing. However, a team of researchers now believe that they have found an identifiable sign that may help with the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Drugs used to treat people with Alzheimer’s fall into two broad categories–drugs to treat cognitive symptoms, such as memory problems and other mental deficits of Alzheimer’s, and drugs to treat behavioral symptoms that do not respond to non-pharmacological behavioral-management approaches. These drugs might include a variety of types of drugs broadly categorized as anti-agitation drugs.

Currently, there are more than 100 clinical trials being conducted in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The government requires that all new medicines undergo rigorous testing in the laboratory, first in animals and then in human volunteers, before they can be prescribed by doctors or sold in pharmacies. Once the required clinical trials are completed, companies submit an application to the FDA, the government agency responsible for the safety of foods and drugs sold in the U.S. Together with an independent panel of medical advisers, the FDA reviews the scientific data and determines whether the drug is safe and effective for people with Alzheimer’s.

A more educated public could manage risk factors to minimize the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, could monitor personal cognitive health with greater vigilance, and could seek medical attention at the earliest sign of decline. Physicians could then diagnose problems earlier and prescribe appropriate treatment including diet, exercise, and drugs to slow disease progression as much as possible. In the end, we could have fewer cases, more effective treatment, slower progression, higher quality of life, and lower healthcare costs.

Celeste Botonakis

On the Nursing Assistant Guides blog, certified medical assistant Celeste Botonakis explores the daily life of a CMA. She'll keep you up-to-date with the latest on what’s happening in the field, and provides tips for those who are interested in becoming a medical or nursing assistant. Celeste has served in the medical field for over six years, and is passionate about helping people. She currently works at CSR Primary Care in Skokie, Illinois. Click here to learn more about Celeste Botonakis and