2018-07-01 / Insight

Alzheimer’s offers mixed bag for future

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Dr. Brad Blaker Emergency Dept. Medical Director McLaren Lapeer Region Dr. Brad Blaker Emergency Dept. Medical Director McLaren Lapeer Region LAPEER — If you’re a man over the age of 55, the Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention at Louisiana State University predicts you have a one in 10 chance of developing dementia before you die. If you’re a woman the odds worsen to one in six.

But on the bright side, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016 reported that dementia rates among Americans over the age of 65 dropped by a quarter in the first dozen years of the century.

The JAMA study reported the dementia rate for seniors over 65 fell from 11.6 percent of the population to 8.6 percent. Still, said Dr. Brad Blaker, the Emergency Department Medical Director at McLaren Lapeer Region, about a third of the patients he sees come through the ER door have dementia.

And while all Alzheimer’s patients have dementia, not all dementia patients have Alzheimer’s.

“Dementia is a broad classification of those advanced degenerative changes that happen mentally,” said Blaker, “and then can come from different avenues.” While Alzheimer’s accounts for an estimated 70 percent of dementia patients, there are a number of other causes as well, including Parkinson’s disease, concussion and alcohol abuse.

The good news is that concussions and alcohol abuse are preventable, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are treatable. However, Blaker said, there is no “cure” for dementia, just ways of managing it and lessening the impact of its effects.

On the hopeful side, the Centers for Disease Control describes Alzheimer’s as a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment, and a disease that is not a normal part of aging.

Early intervention, said Blaker, is critical and “a good primary care doctor is worth their weight in gold. They know the patient better than anybody.”

He added to have a good support system also contributes to a better outcome.

Blaker said that while there is no proven genetic connection to Alzheimer’s, anecdotally “it does seem to follow family lines.” And although it was first described in 1906 and not given a name until 1910, the first treatments didn’t emerge until the 1990s.

Those treatments, Blaker said don’t cure the illness, but instead help manage and slow symptoms. However, he added, Alzheimer’s and to a less extent Parkinson’s has gained traction in recent years and growing amounts of resources are being directed to finding a cure.

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