In the coming years the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is expected to skyrocket as baby boomers age.
Although researchers continue to learn more and more about Alzheimer’s disease, a cure seems a long ways off.
A Journal reporter sat down with Dr. Larry Sellers, from Mercy’s Internal Medicine Clinic, to talk about Alzheimer’s and other related illnesses.
Sellers previously worked from 1989 to 2010 as an internist in Mercy’s Geriatric Assessment Clinic, which has since closed. In his current position, Sellers regularly encounters patients who have been diagnosed with a form of dementia.
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
“Dementia is the broad category. Of the broad category of dementia, the most common type that we see is Alzheimer’s. Dementia really refers to impairment of a person’s thinking.”
How does a physician diagnose Alzheimer’s disease?
“Scientists have develop antibodies and antigens that can dye radioactively and then with special testing (SPECT scanning), that can be used with these special isotopes to actually look for the abnormal proteins that are in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It hasn’t become clinical practice, but it gives you an idea of how scientists are trying to move in those directions.
Right now, for a patient coming in about concerns about cognitive functioning, we need to do a CT scan of the brain or an MRI scan. Both of those help us know about the anatomy of the brain. We’re looking particularly for tumors and strokes and small vessel disease.”
Are certain people at greater risk for developing a form of dementia?
“Yes. There have been some interesting large population studies. Clearly women live longer than men. Alzheimer’s disease increases dramatically as people age, so right now, we still believe women are more prone to Alzheimer’s disease than men. Personally, I think a lot of that has to do with differences in life expectancy. … If people have head trauma when they’re younger, they’re at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.”
There have been some recent drug trials related to Alzheimer’s disease. Have researchers developed a way to slow the progression of the disease?
“Right now there are really no good treatments that offer anybody a cure. Until about 10 years ago, treatment attitudes by doctors were pretty nihilistic. The medication treatments in particular are not cures. The treatments are expensive for the patient. In the absence of a cure, and with the data saying at best the medication is going to delay the decline of your thinking and delay you losing your independence, a lot of doctors weren’t anxious to prescribe the medications.”
Are there ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
“The major recommendation for all of us in term of prevention is exercise. Nobody really understands why that should be beneficial, but the Alzheimer’s Association in its research and recommendations does recommend that a primary strategy for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and for preventing dementia is that we all get exercise equivalent to walking continuously for 30 minutes a day.
Other things that might case damage to the brain – hardening of the arteries – so make sure that your cholesterol levels are normal. Make sure that your blood pressure is normal. Make sure if you have diabetes that your blood sugar is controlled.”
As baby boomers age, more and more people will be experiencing some form of dementia. What issues will this pose in terms of the quality of care that will be available to them?
“A lot of people are trying to anticipate what the need for those people will be. It’s a big societal issue, and it’s going to be a political issue. Medicare doesn’t cover the extended type of care that patients might need when they become unable to take care of themselves. That then requires that person to deplete all of their resources to pay for that care. Once they’ve depleted all of their resources, they qualify for Title 19 or Medicaid. And Medicaid does pay for that care. It’s a huge issue that people are trying to plan for. Obviously there’s big hope that curing Alzheimer’s disease in your lifetime will further negate the impact as time goes on. Nobody has an answer right now.”
Do you think a cure for Alzheimer’s disease will be developed in your lifetime?
“The Human Genome Project, they made the statement that they’re going to cure Alzheimer’s disease in the next 20 years. Well, maybe. But human research isn’t advancing rapidly in that regard. I don’t know. It could happen.”
Citation: Butz, Dolla A. “Exercise Could Help Stave off Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Sioux City Journal. Sioux City Journal, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. http://siouxcityjournal.com/exercise-could-help-stave-off-onset-of-alzheimer-s-disease/article_7f44c468-6bd5-5937-8c41-a519d59de33b.html