While a very common condition among people globally, Alzheimer’s disease is still stigmatized and misinformation is everywhere. Carmel B. Dyer, MD, geriatrician with UT Physicians, breaks down the disease, its early symptoms, and treatment options for patients.
“Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages can be subtle and easy to miss, especially in more articulate and highly educated people,” said Dyer, who’s also executive vice chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Dyer is the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Chair in Gerontology at McGovern Medical School, and Vincent F. and Nancy P. Guinee Distinguished Chair at UTHealth.
A common symptom that many people attribute to dementia is forgetfulness; however, other warning signs may be more difficult to spot, such as vision problems or losing track of time. Dyer recommends families also watch for their loved ones experiencing a change in personality or having trouble organizing their day-to-day tasks.
Although the condition is a disorder of the mind, as it progresses, it can begin to affect a person’s body.
“Later in the disease, one can have trouble speaking or moving. Eventually, organs such as the bowel or bladder will be affected,” said Dyer.
Care for at-risk individuals
Women, people of color, those with past brain injury, and those who have a strong family history of the disease are at the greatest risk. Dyer recommends high-risk individuals speak with their primary care provider and visit the Alzheimer’s Association site for additional information.
Treatment plans are personalized for each patient and their needs, but it can include medication that will help slow the progression of the disease and manage behavioral changes.
Support for caregivers
As for caregivers, there are many physical and mental challenges associated with living with and tending to a person with dementia.
The UTHealth Consortium on Aging focuses on multidisciplinary care for age-related conditions. Their website contains an abundance of information on how to create a support system for a patient with dementia, as well as updates on research, locations for specialized care, and a guide to local resources.
“Despite the gravity of the disease, a person with dementia and their family can experience periods of great joy,” said Dyer. “Instead of creating memories, it is possible to instead create meaningful moments that can enhance the quality of life for someone with this disease.”