Diagnosis and management of Alzheimer disease.

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BACKGROUND: Alzheimer disease afflicts millions of older Americans, with an estimated cost to society approaching $100 million annually. Family physicians will care for an increasing number of patients with Alzheimer disease as well as their caregivers and families.

METHODS: A comprehensive and systematic review of the literature published between 1985 and 1998 about diagnosing and treating Alzheimer disease was conducted, using “dementia,” “Alzheimer’s disease,” and “treatment” as search strategy key words. Data and information that reported significant conclusions were critically reviewed. Potentially important new data about new agents that might be of benefit when caring for patients with Alzheimer disease are discussed.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The primary goals when treating Alzheimer disease patients are enhancing autonomy and functional abilities and maintaining quality of life for patients and caregivers. In addition to diagnostic and pharmacologic treatment, primary care physicians will be called upon to provide nonpharmacologic support to assist with behavioral, social, and living environment problems faced by these patients and their families. The most common pharmacologic treatment is cholinesterase inhibition. Two cholinesterase inhibitors, tacrine and donepezil, are effective in treating cognitive and global function. Newer cholinesterase inhibitors should soon be available that might offer safety advantages as well as efficacy in treating behavioral and psychiatric symptoms related to Alzheimer disease. Other agents, including vitamin E, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogen, and Ginkgo biloba, are under investigation. Nonpharmacologic measures are important components in the management of Alzheimer disease. Support groups can help to diminish behavioral problems, maintain the patient’s independence, and provide relief for caregivers and families.

Source: J Am Board Fam Pract 1999 Sep-Oct;12(5):375-85

PMID: 10534086, UI: 20001653

(Department of Family Medicine, University of Maryland at Baltimore, USA.)

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