There’s challenge living without the memory

| January 27, 2017 | 0 Comments
Tripler Army Medical Center's Neurology Department offers screening for Alzheimers disease. The condition is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. There is no cure for Alzheimers disease, but there are treatments available.

Tripler Army Medical Center’s Neurology Department offers screening for Alzheimers disease. The condition is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. There is no cure for Alzheimers disease, but there are treatments available. (Courtesy photo)


Kristi Hayashida

Tripler Army Medical Center
HONOLULU — Average lifespans have more than doubled in the 20th century due to an increase of improvements in health care, but good news becomes shadowed by the ability to remember it.

With an increasing aged population, cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease is a major social and health issue. All aging humans will develop some degree of decline in cognitive capacity, which usually includes symptoms like forgetfulness, decreased ability to maintain focus and problem solving.

If left unchecked, cognitive decline may lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, illness and death.

Evaluation
Maj. Jonathan Y. Ji, chief of the Neurology Department at Tripler Army Medical Center, also known as TAMC, recommends an initial evaluation for all patients suspected for dementia. Ji explained that the initial steps usually start with a clinical evaluation involving the patient and their family members, who can focus on the patient’s history. This is then followed by a complete physical examination, including a neurologic exam that may involve a neuropsychological evaluation.

“We also complete a thorough screening for depression in patients because this often masquerades as dementia,” said Ji. “Here, in TAMC, we offer structural neuroimaging with either a noncontract head CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for the initial evaluation of all patients suspected with dementia.”

A patient diagnosed with dementia is being diagnosed with a set of symptoms that affect mental cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning. It is easy to overlook the early signs of dementia, which often begin with simple episodes of forgetfulness. It occurs when certain brain cells are damaged.

Many conditions can cause dementia, including a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.

Form of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, and not considered a normal part of aging. It is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that gradually destroys aspects of memory, processing speed and reasoning, and executive functions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for about 50 to 70 percent of all cases of dementia, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to diagnose an Alzheimer’ patient with complete accuracy while the person is alive. The complete diagnosis can only be confirmed when the brain is examined during an autopsy under a microscope. However, neurologists who specialize in cognitive dysfunction are able to make the correct diagnosis up to 90 percent of the time.

“TAMC neurologists are board certified, but not fellowship trained, yet,” explained Ji. “We refer our patients out to specialists for further evaluation. It is important for a patient’s loved ones to be involved because they can provide invaluable insight, as well as supportive history of cognitive and behavioral changes.”

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease will slowly develop symptoms and get worse over time. In its beginning stage, memory loss is mild, but in its later stage, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

Alzheimer’s disease affects all of the so-called “fluid” mental abilities that are important for carrying out simple tasks for everyday living, such as brushing one’s teeth or combing one’s hair. Eventually, an Alzheimer’s patient will become anxious or aggressive and need total care.

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving, and treatment options and sources of support can improve the quality of life.
Ji explained that TAMC offers detection, medication to help with Alzheimer’s symptoms and referrals to neurologists who can properly diagnose patients and educate their family members.

“As a provider, it is not difficult for me to provide care to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s,” Ji said. “But I imagine it must be very challenging for their family and loved ones.”

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can have high physical, emotional and financial costs. Being well informed and joining a support group can help caregivers handle the stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn More
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and support systems, contact your primary care manager at (808) 433-2778 to schedule an appointment or visit www.nia.nih.gov.

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Category: Health

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