By Daniel J. Vance


     Recently, I was perusing Reader's Digest when an article on early detection of Alzheimer's disease (AD) caught my eye. Apparently, Medical College of Wisconsin researchers have found a way to determine if a person is "at risk" for AD simply by measuring activity in the area of the brain where Alzheimer's first develops. An early diagnosis is important because it helps a person plan for the future before the disease can impair decision-making abilities.

     Since AD is in my family history – my grandfather had it and an aunt has it – I was curious about new treatments and possible cures. And what I learned surprised me.

     "We have yet to determine the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease in the brain, but research in recent years has been promising," wrote Dr. Neil Buckholtz in an email to me last week. He is Chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch, National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. "We now know a great deal more about the underlying mechanisms of the disease and drug therapies are being developed in an attempt to stop its progression or to prevent it altogether. I am more hopeful than ever that we will have effective new treatments for Alzheimer's disease in the coming decade."

     AD was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who discovered tangled fiber bundles in a deceased woman's brain tissue in 1906.

     It affects the parts of the brain that control memory, language and thought. The National Institute on Aging website, www.alzheimers.org, claims that up to 4 million Americans have AD and that "the number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65."

     Usually the first symptom is mild forgetfulness, such as failing to remember a friend's name. It progresses until a person has trouble understanding, reading, speaking or even doing basic chores like washing dishes or folding clothes. In later stages a person may become anxious or wander from home. Once a person is diagnosed, he or she can expect on average another ten years of life.

     As Dr. Buckholtz has noted, drug therapies are being developed to slow its progression. Researchers have been testing anti-inflammatory drugs because brain inflammation may contribute to AD damage. Other treatments include: vitamin E, which slows progression; and ginkgo biloba, which may relieve symptoms.

     To learn more call the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center at 800-438-4380.

     [Visit www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2002 by Daniel J. Vance.]