Jul 6, 2010

Family Concerns About Alzheimer's Disease

By Carole B. Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Carole B. Larkin is a geriatric case manager at ThirdAge Services in Dallas, Texas.

She recently received an email from a woman that is concerned about Alzheimer's. Her mother and grandmother both suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Here is part of her response.

From Carole Larkin....

I will try to answer using the most current trends in research of which I am aware.

First, there is some discussion going on as to what is the definition of Alzheimer’s. It traditionally has been defined by the plaques and tangles seen by Dr. Aloise Alzheimer in the early 1900’s. There is research dissention as to whether the plaques and tangles cause the disease, or if the disease stated earlier and the plaques and tangles just show the disease already is existing in the brain.

Editor Note: See -- Alzheimer's A Sudden Flash of Genius?

Alzheimer’s does not always exist alone in the brain of a demented person. The person could have had a stroke and also have what is known as Vascular dementia as well.

Editor Note: See -- What is Vascular Dementia?

A person may have Dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease at the same time as having Alzheimer’s diseases. There are lots of other dementias that could coexist with Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, alcoholic dementia for example.

Editor Note: See -- What is Alzheimer's? What are the Eight Types of Dementia?

Without having a “fully baked” diagnosis -- see Dementia and Depression -- How to get a "Fully Baked" Diagnosis -- a person couldn’t know exactly what they have going on in there. I suspect that your mom and her relatives did not have “fully baked” diagnosis’s. For argument’s sake, let’s just assume that mom and her relatives just had run of the mill Alzheimer’s disease, no additional disease, strokes or anything else.

There seems to be a general consensus in the Alzheimer’s research scientific community at the moment that there are essentially two categories of Alzheimer’s disease. The most common by far is the type where people show symptoms of it after the age of 65 years old. The biggest risk factor for getting this type is getting old. We’re living a lot longer than we used to because many diseases that used to kill us while we were young do any more. So think about how old your Mom and her relatives were when they started showing signs of Alzheimer’s.

The second is called early onset and people start showing signs of the disease in their 40’s and 50’s ( a few in their 30’s even!) This kind is the kind that is thought to be genetic (Familial). One gene has been identified for a number of years as a suspect in passing this disease from family member to the next generation. It is called the APOE4 gene. Recently other genes are also under suspicion of contributing to the early onset type of the disease and are being tested in current research. A person can be tested to see if they have the mutated APOE4 gene. I don’t think anybody can be tested for the other genes yet, unless they are in research (Clinical trials). To find out where you might be able to be tested for APOE4 I’d probably start asking at the nearest NIH clinical trials site. You’ll find this list at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/ResearchInformation/ResearchCenters/#what. That said, don’t bother if the women in the family showed signs of the disease after age 65. It would be a waste of your time.

You ask what to do to try and prevent getting Alzheimer’s? Well, there is of course disagreement on that front too. Over the years a bunch of things have been touted to prevent Alzheimer’s by people and businesses interested in getting your money. Vitamins, foods, you name it. There hasn’t been anything at all that I’ve heard of that absolutely guaranteed to prevent Alzheimer’s. Here’s a link to the latest statement of these findings. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1996235,00.html?xid=rss-mostpopular. Reading through the whole article, we find that the usual advice, exercise, Mediterranean diet, no smoking, etc couldn’t hurt.

Also, perhaps learning a new thing, whether it’s a new skill or language or dance , whatever, as long as it’s new to you, may help you build up ‘RESERVES” in your brain. Reserves are new pathways around damaged areas of the brain. Again it couldn’t hurt!

Finally, I think that it would be a good thing to get loud and advocate the government, private charities, anybody you can get to stand still and listen to contribute more money towards research working on curing and/or preventing Alzheimer’s and related diseases. Far less money is going into research than goes towards other diseases like cancer. Not to take money away from other cures, mind you, but to just find more to go to Alzheimer’s. Maybe if we work harder at getting more money to researchers they have a better chance of unraveling Alzheimer’s and related diseases before your daughters get old enough to be at risk.

I hope this helps you at least a little.

Editor note; If you have multiple incidences of Alzheimer's in your family you might consider this clinical trial -- Are Commercial Genetic Tests Worth Taking?

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Original content Carole B. Larkin, the Alzheimer's Reading Room