About Alzheimer's & Dementia
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
“Dementia” refers to progressive general decline in mental abilities that is sufficiently severe to interfere with daily living and could be caused by numerous conditions or diseases. Alzheimer ’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical, progressive and degenerative disease of the brain characterized by memory loss, communication difficulties, disorientation regarding time and place, visuo-spatial challenges, and changes in personality and behaviour. Each of these symptoms affects a person’s ability to function independently.
Is it genetic? Can it be passed on to family members?
- Sporadic: This is the most common type of Alzheimer’s disease and constitutes 95% of all diagnosed occurrences. It typically affects people over 65 years of age and is known to progress more slowly. The only proven risk factor for sporadic type Alzheimer’s is advancing age. A genetic component has also been identified and involves the gene for a lipoprotein APOE E4 on chromosome 19. Having one copy of APOEE4 increases the risk of developing late onset Alzheimer’s disease by 2 times, whereas having 2 copies of APOE4 increases the risk by 3-5 times. About 25% of individuals in the community have one copy of APOEE4 and about 2% have 2 copies of this gene.
- Familial: This refers to Alzheimer’s disease that is passed down through generations by family members and makes up only 5% of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease. In these cases, the age of onset can occur before 65 years, is considered “young onset” and generally known to progress more rapidly. The familial Alzheimer’s disease is attributed to mutations in 3 chromosomes, namely Chromosome 21 (coding for Amyloid Precursor Protein). Chromosome 14 (coding for Presenilin 1), and Chromosome 1 (coding for Presenilin 2). Of these the Presenilin 1 gene on Chromosome 14 has been implicated in 80% of cases of familial Alzheimer’s Disease.
What changes can I expect?
How is it diagnosed?
What kind of treatment is available?
Currently there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease but medications are available to help manage or minimize the symptoms of dementia. The medications currently available are Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl, and Ebixa.
Unfortunately, these medications do not stop or slow the progression of the disease itself. Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl help restore the level of neurotransmitters (acetylcholine) in the brain which enables the cells to function more efficiently. Ebixa helps in reducing the toxicity of glutamate which is produced in the brain when neurons die, by blocking the NMDA receptors through which it acts.
The first 3 medications are intended for early to moderate disease. Ebixa is intended for the later stages of the disease and is not covered by Alberta Blue Cross.