More Americans are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. David Gill, the Director of the Memory Center at Unity for Rochester Regional Health, discussed the disease and its progression Wednesday during News 8 at Sunrise. He began by addressing the recent news that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is dealing with an early stage Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“It’s always courageous when someone like Sandra Day O’Connor comes out to announce she has Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Gill said. “There’s still quite a stigma against that and it’s courageous to have somebody do that and bring attention to it and also show that especially in the early stages you can live with the disease fairly functionally, and really live an enjoyable life. So it’s important that people like her do that. As people age, and as the Baby Boomers come of age, the number people with Alzheimer’s disease is going to sky rocket. That’s a real challenge for us here in our community and across the world. Right now there are about five million people with Alzheimer’s disease, and that’s predicted to triple in the next 10 to 20 years, and may even go beyond that. So that’s a real challenge for us, that we need to be aware of, being able to diagnose, to treat, and manage people with the disorder.”
When it comes to making an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Dr. Gill said timing is key. “The interesting thing about Alzheimer’s disease, the brain changes that start and cause Alzheimer’s disease we think begin maybe twenty or thirty years before the symptoms actually start. So people in their forties and fifties, maybe that’s when we should intervene and find lifestyle changes, or medication that can prevent those changes. And then slowly as they build up, they become enough in the brain to cause memory problems that are kind of minor and we think are a part of aging, and then slowly over time become severe enough that they impact someone’s life.”
Research is helping doctors in several ways. “Right now some of the studies show that how we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease can be more accurate,” said Dr. Gill. “So we have things like PET (positron emission tomography) scans, and the newer PET scans that look at amyloid and tau, spinal taps that look at the proteins amyloid and tao that are part of Alzheimer’s disease, have allowed us to be much more accurate about diagnosis. And then the next step is treatment. So obviously what we need now is exciting, groundbreaking, new research to show that we can treat it, and there are some glimmers of hope there, with some recent studies to show there might be ways to slow it down and maybe improve symptoms beyond what we can do right now.”
Dr. Gill said people seeking more information about Alzheimer’s disease should consult the Alzheimer’s Association – alz.org – and the Memory Center at Unity – RochesterRegional.org (search Memory Center).