Alzheimer’s disease affects many aging individuals. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by impairment to the individual’s memory and other thinking skills including their functional abilities. Alzheimer’s is a condition that results in the intellectual abilities of the individual experiencing “progressive deterioration” in their intellectual abilities. (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 1996, p.1) Approximately 10% of adults in the United States are affected by this disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease that results in dementia affecting approximately four million individuals in the United States. (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 1996, paraphrased) Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by behavioral changes as well.
Dr. Eric Tangalos, a primary care physician and co-director for education at the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s Disease Researcher Center located in Rochester, Minnesota described the diagnostic process in an online interview at the Mayo Clinic website and explains that a accurate diagnosis is the starting point for ensuring that the individual receives treatment and care that is appropriate and that the individual’s family members are on the receiving end of sufficient education so that they are able to make plans for the future care of the Alzheimer’s patient. Alzheimer’s disease has specific symptoms that serve to indicate that the individual is developing Alzheimer’s disease. Included in these symptoms is that of disruptive memory loss affecting the daily activities and life of the individual and difficulties in making plans or in problem solving. The individual who is developing Alzheimer’s disease is often confused as to time and place and has difficulty in comprehending “visual images and spatial relationships”. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2010, p.1)
Alzheimer’s disease also is characterized by early warning signs that include problems in the completion of task that the individual is familiar with and this may be tasks at home, at work or in leisure activities. The tendency to misplace items and losing the ability to retrace where they have been to find the item is high among individuals who are developing Alzheimer’s disease. Another unfortunate symptom of the individual in the developmental stages of Alzheimer’s disease is the accompanied development of poor judgment and withdrawal from life activities including social and work activities. Finally, an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease includes shifts to the individuals’ mood and personality.
In a recent report, it is stated that Alzheimer’s disease may be reliably identified by the individual experiencing what are known as “senior moments” or otherwise stated, moments of “…unreliable memory”. (Mohan, 2013, p.1) Mohan reports that studies have been attempting to fill in the gap “between the anecdotal evidence of memory decline and objective, measurable signs, such as atrophy of certain brain regions evident through imaging devices, genetic anomalies on a cellular level, and other clinical tests.” (2013, p.1) While these ‘senior moments’ may be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it is reported that these moments might be stress-related or triggered by such as cardiovascular disease or even depression. (Mohan, 2013, paraphrased)
Mohan reports that a study conducted at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston states that the research conducted indicates that cognitive decline is linked to “increased levels of a piece of protein known to form plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” (2013, p.1) The report state that the beta-amyloid peptides (plaques) interfere with the brain’s signaling process due to clumping up in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. This research is affirmed by a study conducted at the University of Bonn, Germany in which 3,000 individuals were studied. The individuals in the study had not ever received a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease. The data in the study indicates that the “strongest correlation with Alzheimer’s disease” was derived from the individuals with late mild cognitive impairment and it is also reported that individuals in the study reporting early memory loss concerns were found to be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease symptoms that were of a measurable nature and that this likelihood was higher than for those who did not report concerns with memory loss.
According to the work of Jeffrey (2001) Medicare has released a new study that relates that many individuals with vascular dementia and Parkinson’s disease often receive a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease resulting in “substantial excess costs” pending diagnosis that is accurate. (p.1) In fact, it is reported that among 15,367 patients who have vascular dementia that 16.6% had received a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The total amount in excess cost for health care for patients receiving a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is reported at $11967 for the first year and $18,775 for the second year with even higher amounts for any additional years pending a correct diagnosis of the patient’s condition.
The study of Alzheimer’s disease is important because of the large population of individuals in the United States affected by this disease. The large population of elderly baby boomers will only serve to exacerbate the problem for health care professionals, family members of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and the large population of elderly individuals which highlights the need for a commitment to research on identifying Alzheimer’s disease early so that individuals with Alzheimer’s and their family are enabled to make plans for the care of the individual with Alzheimer’s disease as the disease progresses and their functional abilities are reduced and ultimately lost. In addition, in a time of rising health care costs, it is important to avoid misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease due to the extremely high excess costs of health care associated with individuals being misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease.
Written By: Laura Jo Lindsey