More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, that number could rise to 16 million by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Dementia is one of the costliest conditions to society as those suffering from the disease are typically hospitalized twice as much as other senior citizens. It’s estimated that this year alone, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will cost the nation $259 billion.
Total per-person health care and long-term care payments in 2016 for Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s or other dementias were over three times as great as payments for other Medicare beneficiaries. Average per-person out-of-pocket costs for Alzheimer’s and other dementias are almost five times higher than average per-person payments for seniors without these conditions.
Early detection not only cuts costs, but may also slow the disease process. Typically, Alzheimer’s develops after age 65 – 1 in 8 senior adults have Alzheimer’s disease – with an average age of 75 for the onset of the disease. However, up to 5 percent of patients have an early-onset form of the disease.
Data shows that the brain of a person affected with Alzheimer’s disease begins to change more than a decade before noticeable symptoms develop. Researchers stress that mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or mild memory and thinking changes that are noticeable, but not debilitating, are not a normal part of aging.
“While Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with no known cure, we’ve found that certain lifestyle changes may delay the onset and severity of symptoms,” said Dr. Samir Patel, MD, of Sparks Adult Medicine Specialists in Fort Smith. “Regular exercise, a healthy blood pressure and activities that stimulate the mind, such as crossword puzzles and word games are important to keeping the brain healthy.”
Recognizing these cognitive changes could be the key to early detection and intervention for those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With early detection you can get the maximum benefits from available treatments, have more time to plan for the future, secure help for you and your loved ones.
Talk to Your Doctor
Diagnosis involves a thorough medical evaluation, including a complete medical history, mental status testing, physical and neurological exam, and tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.
Your primary care doctor may also refer you to a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias such as a neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist.
Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
There are ten signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, any one of which could indicate a problem:
1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2) Challenges in planning or solving problems
3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at work or home
4) Confusion with time or place
5) Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships
6) New problems with words in speaking or writing
7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8) Decreased or poor judgment
9) Withdrawal from work or social activities
10) Changes in mood and personality
Alicia Agent is the community relations and events manager for Sparks Health System at the Sparks Medical Center in Van Buren, Ark.