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Living Through Windows…

Alzheimer's Disease

FAQ

Is Alzheimer’s disease genetic?

There are a few very rare cases in which Alzheimer’s disease does run in families. In these cases, there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease — affecting those under age 65. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer’s disease is one in two. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease are not of the type that is passed on directly in this way. If a family member has a normal form of Alzheimer’s disease, the risk to close relatives is around three times higher than the risk for a person of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. It is thought that, in these cases, a person’s genes may contribute to the development of the disease but do not cause it directly.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia. Nor can a cure be expected in the foreseeable future. Researchers are still at the stage of developing drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease will eventually make a cure possible.

Are there any drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease?

Although there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer’s disease at present, there are a number of drug treatments that can help some people with Alzheimer’s disease. Currently available treatments can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases for periods between six and 18 months. The main class of such compounds is the cholinesterase inhibitors. Other kinds of drugs are sometimes useful for controlling some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as sleeplessness and agitation. In general, the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquilizers should be kept to a minimum if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, as they can increase confusion.

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?

Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease for any preventative measures to be recommended. Although Alzheimer’s disease is more common with increasing age, the trigger for the characteristic changes that occur in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s disease is not known. Even though these brain changes are associated with aging, these are not a normal part of the aging process. Genes are thought to play a part in the development of most cases of Alzheimer’s disease. In rare cases, abnormal genes actually cause the disease. Much more commonly, genes are believed only to contribute to a person’s susceptibility to the disease. It seems that, at least in some cases, factors in the environment may be necessary to trigger the illness.

Someone I care for with Alzheimer’s has become violent. What can I do?

It is important to remember that your loved one’s aggression is not directly aimed at you but is part of his illness. It is common for people who have Alzheimer’s disease to pass through a phase of being angry and sometimes aggressive. Although this phase will pass, it may help you in the meantime to consider some of the things that may be triggering your loved one’s anger. For example, he may not like being forced to accept help to do things that he used to do on his own, such as washing. Or perhaps he feels frustrated simply because he is unable to do certain things. Another possibility is that your loved one is bewildered and frightened because he no longer understands what is going on around him. It is also possible that he is just bored or has excess energy. Sometimes hunger, the need to pass urine or constipation can lead to disruptive behavior. If the angry outbursts have only started recently, they may be due to an infection or pain. Once you have been able to identify some of the things that tend to make your loved one angry, you may be able to reduce the number of angry outbursts.

Who should I go to if I suspect Alzheimer’s disease?

First, go to your regular family physician. The physician will probably do a variety of tests to determine if you have probable Alzheimer’s. Neurologists, gerontologists and geriatric psychiatrists may also become part of the patient’s treatment team.

How long does Alzheimer’s disease last on average?

The average length of Alzheimer’s disease is seven years. However, it varies from patient to patient and can last as long as 20 years.

Is there a genetic test to see if you have a predisposition to Alzheimer’s?

A blood test is available to identify which apoE alleles a person has, because apolipoprotein is associated with an already well-studied condition, heart disease. However, this blood test cannot tell people whether they will develop Alzheimer’s or when. Although some people want to know whether they will get Alzheimer’s disease later in life, this type of prediction is not yet possible. In fact, some researchers believe that apoE tests or other screening measures may never be able to predict Alzheimer’s with 100 percent accuracy.

Source: Alzheimer’s Disease International