Early-onset Alzheimer's affects people under age 60, and some forms may be inherited.
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Late-onset Alzheimer's is the more common form of the disease, and its first symptoms may appear after age While there is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer's, doctors may examine a patient for signs of stroke, tumors, thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies as these factors also affect memory and cognition , Hyman said.
Doctors will also perform a physical exam to assess the patient's balance, muscle strength and coordination, and conduct neuropsychological tests of memory, language and basic math skills. Along with reviewing the patient's medical history, the doctor may also survey family or friends about the patient's behavior and personality changes. In the past few years, positron emission tomography PET scans of the brain, which can detect whether plaques or tangles are present, have been used to diagnose or monitor the disease, especially in research, Hyman said.
Another exciting breakthrough is the use of cerebrospinal fluid from a spinal tap to measure abnormal protein concentrations in the brain, which indicates the presence of Alzheimer's, he said. There isn't a cure for Alzheimer's, but there are medications available that treat some of the symptoms of the disease, Hyman said.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are drugs that may help with symptoms such as agitation or depression.
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These drugs include donepezil Aricept , galantamine Razadyne and rivastigmine Exelon. Another medication known as memantine Namenda may be used to slow the progression of symptoms in people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Some patients may be prescribed antidepressants to control behavioral symptoms.
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Experts agree that in addition to medication, lifestyle factors, such as staying physically, mentally and socially active can all help the brain. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy can also be beneficial.
Alzheimer's research has expanded significantly in the past decade, Hyman said. Dozens of clinical trials are aimed at finding treatments to slow the disease progression or prevent it altogether, he said. Previous clinical trials focused on preventing the increase in plaque s in the brain, but those experimental therapies failed to produce dramatic results, Hyman said. That outcome suggests that the treatment was administered too late in the disease progression.
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Instead of focusing on plaques, recent drug trials have focused on three other goals for new therapies, Hyman explained. One is to explore whether there are ways to make the brain's remaining nerve cells work better and more efficiently. The second is looking at ways to get rid of the tangles in the brain, and the third is investigating whether decreasing inflammation can prevent harmful brain changes, Hyman said. This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.
Live Science. Alzheimer's disease is an incurable brain disorder that causes plaques to grow around nerve cells, destroying them.
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