JJC programs highlight early signs of Alzheimer’s
Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent January 22, 2013 1:34PM
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:11AM
No known medicine or procedure will cure or slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
Despite the grim prognosis, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends attending one of three JJC Plus 50-sponsored workshops on Wednesday and March 27 at Joliet Junior College’s main campus or Feb. 21 at its Morris location to learn the signs of Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of early diagnosis.
Here’s why, said Mike Bius, spokesman for the Midwest chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Joliet and presenter of the workshops.
Your grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease and you decide to cheer her up by preparing her favorite mashed potatoes. You serve them up with lots of garlic butter on a beautiful china plate and set them in front of her at the dining room table.
Instead of appreciating your sentiments, she angrily throws the plate across the room. You’re hurt and confused. What went wrong?
“You didn’t realize Alzheimer’s affects her ability to see colors and contrasts,” Bius said. “Making white mashed potatoes and serving them on a white plate on an equally white tablecloth set her up for frustration and failure.”
“Know the 10 Signs: Early Detection Matters” will help determine when to seek help if a loved one is experiencing memory loss or behavioral changes, said Paige Vanderhyden, director of workforce development.
“Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease gives you a chance to begin drug therapy, enroll in clinical studies and plan for the future,” Vanderhyden said. “This interactive workshop features video clips of people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Bius said more than 70 types of dementia — symptoms that include problems with behavior, memory, mood, thought and language — do exist.
However, if an individual is older than 70 and shows signs of dementia, it’s 70 percent likely the diagnosis will be Alzheimer’s disease.
Early onset Alzheimer’s disease exists, too. It occurs before age 60.
“As a matter of fact, the first person diagnosed by Dr. Alzheimer 100 years ago was in her 40s,” Bius said.
Gerontologists are good at diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, Bius said, especially since the people suffering from dementia and those closest to them often don’t recognize the symptoms since they may gradually appear.
The doctor may order tests for such disorders as dehydration and vitamin B12 deficiency, perform a neurological exam and order a brain scan. In the past, only an autopsy could definitely prove Alzheimer’s disease because it would show the severely atrophied brain. New contrasting agents can now pick it up, Bius said.
Often, people fear the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease when they misplace their keys, forget a word or walk into a room not knowing why they entered it. However, this is not dementia-related memory loss, Bius said.
“People with dementia can’t keep track of a conversation and keep it going,” Bius said. “They ask many times what’s for lunch after they’ve already eaten lunch.”
Drug therapy that may temporarily help includes cholinesterase inhibitors, which, if taken in the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease, may delay worsening of symptoms for six to 12 months.
Another medication, Namenda, has the same effect. It’s usually reserved for more severe Alzheimer’s and often used in conjunction with one of the cholinesterase inhibitors.
“The bottom line is that the medications are not really that great yet,” Bius said. “We need more studies and more breakthroughs.”
Advice for caregivers
The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner loved ones can receive education. This will tremendously ease the caregiving process because if the afflicted individual has a bad day, everyone has a bad day.
“You learn how not to argue and make things worse,” Bius said. “You learn that when you hear, ‘I hate you,’ it’s the disease process. You learn how not to freak out or take it to heart. Alzheimer’s is a disease of attrition. It wears caregivers out. You become like the frog in boiling water. You don’t realize how tired you are physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Finally, once a diagnosis is achieved, support is available through the Alzheimer’s Association. Assistance includes a 24-hour, nationwide help line, education and referrals.