Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More
As medical science learns more about Alzheimer’s disease, it is becoming increasingly easier to identify genes implicated in this illness. As a result, medical specialists are better able to do genetic studies on family members who have a close relative with Alzheimer’s, and predict if someone with the gene could develop Alzheimer’s.
However, a couple of problems are associated with predicting the disease even when a relative has the particular Alzheimer’s gene. The biggest problem is that having the gene does not guarantee that the individual will develop Alzheimer’s dementia. Also, Alzheimer’s dementia is different from Multi Infarct Dementia. Even though the two dementias look the same they are different and the Alzheimer’s gene has nothing to do with multi infarct dementia.
While there are now some medications that seem to be able to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s, medical science is not yet able to prevent or cure the illness. All of this leads up to a hugely important question. Under these circumstances, would you want to know if you have the gene for Alzheimer’s along with the knowledge that you could become an dementia patient in a few years?
Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study to determine if relatives of Alzheimer’s patients would be made anxious and depressed when the learned they have the gene for the disease. The findings were that there was no increase in depression or anxiety as a result of learning of the gene. However, the researchers are cautious to point out that the people who were studied were selected for being free of any mental health issues. Therefore, the results may not hold true for everyone.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are very good reasons for knowing you are carrying the dementia gene and could develop the disease. Here are the reasons they give.
Benefits of Early Awareness to Physicians, Family and Patients:
Benefits to the physician:
1. Triggers a search for potentially treatable or reversible disorders.
2. Alerts physicians that treatment plans for other health conditions must factor in comprehension and compliance challenges faced by a person with dementia.
3. Alerts physicians of the need to avoid medications with anticholinergic effects, which further suppress activity in one of the chief neurotransmission systems affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Provides time to address safety issues before accidents or emergencies occur.
Benefits to the patient:
5. May positively impact the individual by ensuring greater understanding and awareness of what is happening to him or her
6. Provides an opportunity to take medications to address some of the cognitive changes.
7. Provides the patient and family with a framework for understanding and adapting to cognitive and behavioral changes; may reduce the tendency to blame or be impatient with the diagnosed individual.
8. Opens the door for the patient and family to take advantage of appropriate programs and services.
9. Alerts the patient and family to begin thinking about safety and security issues, including living arrangements, driving, cooking and managing medication.
10. Identifies the condition at a time when the patient can still participate in medical, legal and financial decisions and make proxy plans.
11. Can encourage exploration of options for job accommodations, early retirement or disability for individuals with younger-onset Alzheimer’s before reduced performance jeopardizes employment and financial security.
Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s:
1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life:
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems:
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure: People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
4. Confusion with time or place:
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not realize they are the person in the mirror.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing: People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
8. Decreased or poor judgment:
People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities:
A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
10. Changes in mood and personality:
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
It is important to keep in mind that most of us, especially as we get older, experience all of some of these symptoms. The difference is that we experience them occasionally while those in the midst of the early stages of the illness, experience these and more on a daily and increasingly chronic basis.
You can find more valuable information at the Alzheimer’s Association at the following URL:
Their phone number is: 866-232-8484
Your comments and questions are welcome.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.