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‘Early Diagnosis Can Ease the Burden of Alzheimer’s Disease’

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Neil Pliskin, PhD

Neil Pliskin, PhD

Psychiatry Services

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's slowly destroys cognitive functioning to an extent that it interferes with a person's ability to carry out the simplest tasks, making them completely dependent on others to manage basic activities of daily life.

"Currently, there are no treatments to stop or reverse the progress of Alzheimer's. However, medicines can help temporarily slow down the symptoms and enhance the quality of life," says Dr. Neil Pliskin, director of Neuropsychology Program at UI Health. "Treatment depends on the age, health condition and medical history of the patient, and the severity of the disease. Early diagnosis can help ease the burden of the disease."

A brain affected with Alzheimer's has fewer cells and fewer connections among surviving cells compared to a healthy brain. Symptoms develop slowly and can include:

  • Memory loss, particularly for recent events
  • Language and communication problems
  • Difficulty performing simple tasks
  • Mild coordination problems while using familiar objects
  • Persistent or nighttime confusion and mood swings
  • Loss of energy or interest to do things
  • Behavioral and psychological changes such as hallucinations, insomnia, paranoia, or depression

As these symptoms also can be caused by other reasons, it is best to check with your doctor. Experts continue to study and learn about the causes of Alzheimer's. In most cases, it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. Some risk factors that contribute toward the development of this disease are:

  • Family history of the disease
  • Past head trauma
  • Certain forms of genes
  • Increasing age
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, elevated cholesterol
  • Obesity, smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Sleep-related difficulties

Women are more prone to get this disease than men, and many people with Down's syndrome also develop Alzheimer's disease by the age 40. Healthy lifestyle habits like proper diet maintenance, physical exercise, weight management, and avoiding smoking can help influence the disease, and mental stimulation, such as taking up brain-boosting activities, can contribute toward prevention. Quality sleep, stress management, and frequent social engagement also have been shown to help your brain.

Alzheimer's diagnosis includes evaluations of cognitive abilities and personality changes through laboratory tests, advanced brain-scanning procedures, and neuropsychological testing. An early accurate diagnosis can help patients and their families plan for the future and make important preventative lifestyle changes. Learn more about the Alzheimer's disease and the Memory & Aging Clinic at UI Health here.