Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease Can Help Slow Its Effects

American Osteopathic Association

Characterized by the loss of mental ability in multiple areas such as memory, language, personality and problem solving skills, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in the United States.  AD affects more than 4 million Americans and this number is expected to rise significantly as the population ages. Nearly 50 percent of people over the age of 85 will be diagnosed with AD. 

Age and family history are the most important risk factors for AD, with women more likely to develop this condition than men. “Although genetic factors may increase the risk of developing AD, environmental and lifestyle factors may also play a role,” says Craig M. Wax, D.O., an osteopathic family physician who practices in Mullica Hill, NJ.   “In fact, researchers have found that those who have more years of formal education, stay physically active and engage in mentally challenging activities late into life have a lower risk of developing AD.”

Social support may also be important.  One study conducted in Sweden of 1,200 people age 75 or older who lived alone found that participants who did not have close social ties or good relationships with their children were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who did.

“It is important to distinguish AD from other potentially reversible causes of dementia, such as depression, vitamin B-12 deficiency, thyroid disease, infections, or toxins,” says Dr. Wax.  “Maintaining a healthy body weight, getting regular exercise and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the normal range may reduce the risk of developing certain types of dementia.” 

Although scientists have not yet found a cure for AD, early detection and treatment may delay progression of the disease.  According to Dr. Wax, common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Difficulty remembering familiar people and/or places.
  • Trouble performing routine tasks such as running errands, writing a letter or balancing a checkbook.
  • Depression, irritability and other behavior and personality changes.

Dr. Wax says that many people let these common symptoms of dementia slide until it becomes too late.  “The fact is, dementia progresses slowly and affords a window of opportunity to intervene,” states Dr. Wax.

Tests for dementia can include blood tests for thyroid function, infections and vitamin B deficiencies.  Imaging tests can also be done to show areas of the brain that might be shrinking due to dementia.  And, neuropsychological tests can also be helpful in examining specific brain functions that are becoming impaired.

In mild cases of dementia, an individual may be able to function on their own with the help of memory aids.  These individuals may also benefit from medications to help delay progression of the disease.  In some instances, medications that alter mood and behavior might be necessary.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the drug memantine for treatment of moderate to severe AD.  Advanced cases of dementia may require a caregiver or full-time aid to provide assistance to the individual in the home or a nursing facility.

“The most important thing to keep in mind regarding dementia is that the sooner it is diagnosed, the more effective treatment will be,” advises Dr. Wax.

As complete physicians, D.O.s are able to prescribe medication, perform surgery and can be found practicing in all areas of medicine.  D.O.s can also use their hands to help diagnose and treat injury and illness and to encourage the body’s natural tendency toward good health through the use of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT).  For more information about D.O.s and osteopathic medicine, visit www.osteopathic.org.
Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
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