Navigating the System

Alzheimer’s disease prevalence rates in the United States are expected to triple over the next 50 years, a consequence of the overall aging of the U.S. population.  Because of the profound and far-reaching impact of Alzheimer’s disease, this projected increase in prevalence is expected to pose a tremendous challenge to the healthcare system, to patients and to caregivers.

When facing Alzheimer’s disease, there are a lot of things to consider.  Alzheimer’s disease results in the cognitive and functional deterioration of the affected patient, and behavioral disturbances frequently accompany the disease. Furthermore, because of its progressive and debilitating nature, the disease takes a dramatic emotional, physical, and financial toll on the patient’s primary caregiver.

Despite the burden experienced by both patients and caregivers, strategies for minimizing the negative consequences of Alzheimer’s disease exist.  The physician assisting with primary management of Alzheimer’s disease plays a crucial role in helping patients and families:

Appreciate that life does not stop with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Select optimal prescription drugs for cognitive and behavioral symptoms, with full knowledge of their potential benefits and risks.

Discuss with patient and family members the side effects, benefits and risks of drugs and what to watch for; provide any guidance in writing.

Develop strategies to cope with changes in cognition and behavior.

Address safety issues, including the home environment, driving and wandering.

Optimize management of co-existing conditions.

Identify and access appropriate services. Your local Alzheimer’s Association can be a resource. Provide this information in a handout to patient and family.

Understand approaches to keeping the patient independent as long as possible.

Become aware of local clinical studies. As a result of accelerating progress in Alzheimer’s research, dozens of studies at any given time are seeking to recruit participants with dementia or milder memory loss. Researchers are especially interested in patients with no co-existing medical conditions.

Learn more about prevention and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Getting Help

Alzheimer’s disease, like many other chronic illnesses, will affect you both physically and mentally. It is important to realize that you are not alone and that if you feel you need help coping, you should consider seeking counseling.  Although no cure for Alzheimer’s disease is now available, planning and medical/social management can help ease the burden on both patients and family members. Physical exercise, good nutrition, activities, and social interaction are important. A calm, structured environment also may help the person with Alzheimer’s disease to continue functioning as long as possible.

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