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Alzheimer’s Association Says Early Diagnosis and Treatment Improve Quality of Life

  [ 130 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • January 15, 2003

A review in the Jan. 8 issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, reports that cholinesterase inhibitors, the primary treatment for cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s, also have a beneficial impact on behavioral symptoms, which can include agitation, paranoia and personality changes. The Alzheimer’ s Association says this is an important consideration for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers since minimizing behavioral problems can make it possible for those with Alzheimer’s to remain at home.

In addition to the quality of life benefits experienced by individuals taking these medications as reported in the JAMA study, other studies have shown about a six-month delay in nursing home placement for individuals taking these drugs.

According to Bill Thies, Ph.D., vice president, medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer’ s Association, caregivers make the decision to send individuals with Alzheimer’ s to nursing homes most often because family members and caregivers find it much more difficult to cope with Alzheimer’s behavioral symptoms than with the memory loss associated with the disease.

Statistics compiled by the association show half of all nursing home residents suffer from Alzheimer’s or a related disorder and carry an average yearly cost of $42,000, which can exceed $70,000 in some areas of the country. The average lifetime cost per Alzheimer nursing home resident is $174,000.

“Just talking to caregivers has convinced me of the value of these treatments,” Thies said. "Caregivers tell me that these treatments allow them to continue to connect and communicate with loved ones for longer periods and also keep them living at home."

Currently there are three cholinesterase inhibitor prescription medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of Alzheimer’ s.

“This study underscores the importance of early diagnosis,”Thies said. “These drugs do not represent the ultimate we all hope for—a treatment that arrests the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. But with early diagnosis, treatment can begin when it is likely to have the most beneficial impact for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.”

The most common concerns of people contacting the Alzheimer's Association, the premier source of information and support for the 4 million Americans with Alzheimer’ s disease are assistance in coping with caregiver stress and understanding challenging behaviors. The Association’s 24-hour help line (800-272-3900) has trained consultants available around the clock whenever callers need information, connection to local resources or help and support. Help line staff field calls in English and Spanish and provide support to callers who ask for assistance in some 150 languages and dialects.

Through its national network of chapters, the association offers a broad range of programs and services for people with the disease, their families and caregivers and represents their interests on Alzheimer-related issues before federal, state and local government and with health and long-term care providers. The largest private funder of Alzheimer’s research, the Alzheimer’s Association has committed $136 million toward research into the causes, treatment, prevention and cure of Alzheimer’s.

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