Alzheimer''s Disease: Prevalence and Symptoms
Alzheimer's Disease begins so subtly and so gradually, that the persons with the condition and family members often cannot accurately state when symptoms were first noticed. Its cause is unknown and there is no cure. As of February 2001, five approved drugs were on the market - Aricept, Cognex, Razadyne, Namenda, and Exelon - that temporarily improve cognitive functioning to a slight extent or slow the rate of decline in a small number of patients. Positive effects are seldom noticeable for more than six months. Some people do not handle the side effects well; others cannot afford the drugs.
Many doctors now routinely prescribe one of these drugs to any person exhibiting signs of dementia. (Dementia is a general term that means a condition characterized by a decline in previously normal mental functioning.) Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia and, either alone, or in combination with other conditions, accounts for about 87% of dementia cases (Thal, 2000). According to the Alzheimer's Association, it is present in an estimated 50% of nursing home residents.
There is a common misperception that Alzheimer's Disease, because it is incurable, is also untreatable. Indeed, most people diagnosed with this disorder are not offered treatment, except for the previously mentioned drugs, or possibly, participation in an experimental drug trial. Typically, they will be invited (through their caregiver) to return periodically to see whether and how much their condition has worsened. This is generally determined by a costly battery of neuropsychological tests which measure specific cognitive and language abilities.
The good news is that you don't need a doctor to provide the best available treatment for Alzheimer's Disease: meaningful activity that uses and strengthens remaining skills and abilities, provides a sense of accomplishment, improves mood, and increases overall physical fitness (Arkin, 1999) (Arkin & Mahendra, 2001) (Bonner & Cousins, 1996) (Rimmer, 1997) ( Zgola, 1990). Exercise can benefit persons with Alzheimer's Disease by serving as a means for other social, memory, and language stimulation activities. Examples of these will be given below.