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Q&A…Focus on Alzheimer’s

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The Alzheimer’s Association projects the number of people age 65 and older in Texas will grow by 74 percent between 2000 and 2025.

Dr. Paul Schulz, a neurologist and director of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston’s Memory Disorders and Dementia Clinic, responded to some frequently asked questions regarding Alzheimer’s disease.

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Q: What is Alzheimer’s and how is it different from dementia? 
Dementia is the bigger term that encompasses anyone with significant changes in thinking, emotion, or behavior. Alzheimer disease is one of the many, many causes of dementia. Other causes of dementia include strokes, head trauma, etc.

 

Q:  What kinds of behaviors do a person with Alzheimer’s exhibit? 
In neurology, we define behaviors as something one can see the patient do. We separate that from the emotional and thinking and interpersonal changes we see in AD. If you are thinking about behaviors differently, please let me know. The behavioral changes we see in AD include aggression, agitation, hallucinations, and disinhibition (not controlling the expression of their emotions, such as saying rude comments).

 

Q: What is the best way to communicate with a person who has Alzheimer’s?
One should get their attention, in a quiet location, and speak slowly to them and observe whether they are following the conversation.

 

Q: What is typically the first sign of Alzheimer’s? 
Most typically it is memory loss. But the person themselves doesn’t typically notice it. The person typically forgets that they forget. Their loved ones tell them about it, and then they forget being told about it.

 

Q: Is misplacing your keys a normal part of aging or a symptom of Alzheimer’s? 
Every one forgets some things. And as we get older, i.e. past age 20, we start forgetting more. My job is to compare someone to other people their age to determine whether they are forgetting more or the same as everyone their age.

 

Q: What are the stages in the development of Alzheimer’s

It typically starts with just memory loss, and then progresses to include getting lost, difficulty finding words, and reduced concentration. At some point in there, it disrupts driving, caring for oneself, paying bills, etc. That is when other family members have to take over different functions- and that is very painful, as you can imagine, for the patient who is used to being independent, and for the loved one who has to direct them.

 

Q: What is the best advice you can give for dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s? 
It is a huge journey! It is very difficult. Loved ones need support and patience. There is a lot to learn, and physicians are here to help with that.

15. What should caregivers know?

 

 

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