Article

Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias

Stanley G. McCracken

in Social Work

ISBN: 9780195389678
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0115
Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias

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Prior to the last century dementia, referred to as senility, was seen as a normal and inevitable part of aging. About one hundred years ago Dr. Alois Alzheimer described the case of a woman with a complex set of symptoms including impaired memory and speech, disorientation, and hallucinations. After her death, Dr. Alzheimer conducted an autopsy and described the beta-amyloid (Aβ) plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The prevalence of AD and other dementia is estimated at 5–7 percent in individuals sixty-five years old and at 25–50 percent in those over eighty-five (Agronin 2008; see Guidebooks). There were approximately 35 million adults over sixty-five in the United States in 2000, and that number is expected to double by 2050. When considered together, these figures explain why dementia is considered a growing national problem. Research on AD and other dementias has grown in the past thirty years and especially in the last decade. Advances in imaging and neuropsychological testing have improved the ability to recognize and distinguish between AD, frontotemporal, Lewy body, vascular, and Parkinson’s disease dementias. Knowledge has expanded particularly rapidly in understanding the changes associated with AD. For example, knowledge from multicenter projects is yielding insights into the pathophysiology of dementia, and information from large-scale genetic studies has revealed a number of potential gene candidates contributing to the risk of AD in older adults. Unfortunately, these basic science insights have yet to be translated into proven treatments to prevent or interrupt the disease process in AD or other dementias. There have been some advances in the treatment of dementia symptoms and associated conditions, such as development of medications designed to slow the progression of memory loss. While these medications provide some symptomatic relief, the effects have not been large, and use is often associated with unpleasant side effects. Many have looked to herbal remedies and dietary supplements to preserve cognitive functioning and slow progression of dementia, though these approaches too have shown minimal effect. Psychosocial approaches, often delivered by family members and other informal caregivers, are still considered the first line interventions to maintain the function of individuals with dementia and associated conditions. Because of the rapid growth of knowledge in AD and other dementias, most of the works cited in this bibliography will be recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses. This will provide a portal to current information and to authors or approaches that can be explored further.

Article.  9931 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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