It’s a heart-wrenching diagnosis that is affecting too many families around the world. Currently, more than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and as our population ages, this number could potentially skyrocket to 16 million by 2050.
It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., causing tremendous financial disability and burden to those caregivers who assist them.
Many believe that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are simply signs of normal aging. Consistent day-to-day forgetfulness, disorientation and other serious problems with thinking are common signs of the illness. These cognitive problems lead to impairments in daily functioning and one’s ability to take care of themselves.
For those who suffer with the illness and those who care for them, these cognitive losses are often not the most disabling aspects of the disease. Behavioral and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, aggression and even loss of touch with reality can lead to significant suffering for your loved one. The caregivers’ burden is greatly increased when these behavioral problems arise.
Over the last 20 years there have been significant advances in our understanding of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is no cure. As scientific advances continue, our hope is to recognize and diagnosis Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible. It is believed that early intervention is one of our best hopes for stopping the progression of the disease or even curing it. Continued funding in research is essential.
For those patients suffering now with dementia, there is much that can be done to help. Clinics that specialize in memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia can provide professional help in managing the disease and alleviating some of the behavioral symptoms. They can also provide assistance that can benefit loved ones who care for them on a regular basis.
If you or a loved one suspect Alzheimer’s disease, call your primary care physician or contact the Memory Disorders Center at the University of Miami Health System. There are a number of ongoing studies and programs that can provide an accurate diagnosis and support through this difficult time. For information, call 305-355-9065.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Crocco is chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.