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Monthly Health Topics

Know the Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

By Susan Beane, M.D.
With living longer comes the risk of serious illness, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that begins with mild forgetfulness and leads to increased confusion and the inability to manage one’s normal activities of daily living. To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, I spoke with Jed Levine, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter.
Dr. Susan Beane: How common is Alzheimer’s disease?
Mr. Jed Levine: Alzheimer’s is a very common disease. We estimate that five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one among the top ten causes of death that we haven’t found a way to slow down, prevent, or stop.
Dr. Beane: At what age are most people with Alzheimer’s diagnosed?
Mr. Levine: Most people are diagnosed in their 70s or 80s or above, but about four percent of Alzheimer’s cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 60 or 65.
Dr. Beane: How are Alzheimer’s symptoms different from the type of forgetfulness that we sometimes think of as just part of getting older?
Mr. Levine: Some cognitive change happens as we grow older, but it doesn’t affect daily functioning. Alzheimer’s causes memory problems that disrupt daily function—having trouble managing and keeping appointments, paying bills, or completing familiar tasks like using the microwave or remembering a TV show you’ve seen recently. On our website we have a great, multilingual brochure that gives the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Beane: If someone is experiencing these symptoms, do you recommend seeing a doctor?
Mr. Levine: Absolutely. We recommend that people see their family physician first, but also that they see a specialist who can do a comprehensive workup.
Dr. Beane: Safety is a concern with Alzheimer’s patients, as it’s common for them to wander and get lost. Can you tell me about the program your organization offers to address this?
Mr. Levine: Sixty to seventy percent of people with Alzheimer’s will wander at any time during the disease, and it’s always very scary when that happens. We’ve partnered with the MedicAlert Foundation to develop a program to provide identification for people who are at risk of wandering. The program provides a bracelet or pendant identifier for the individual to wear, and people enroll and give information about who should be contacted if the individual is found. We now have more than 22,000 New Yorkers enrolled in the program, and 99 percent of the people who go missing while wearing the bracelet have subsequently been found and returned safely home.
Dr. Beane: Where can people get more information about Alzheimer’s disease and the MedicAlert and Safe Return Program?
Mr. Levine: They can get more information on our website, at www.Alz.org/NYC, or by calling our 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900. There is a fee to enroll in the MedicAlert and Safe Return program, but we’re able to offer this program free of charge to any New Yorker who needs it.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.alz.org. Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.
MedicAlert is a registered trademark of the MedicAlert Foundation and is not affiliated with Healthfirst.

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