Guest column: What to look for at Thanksgiving: Detect Alzheimer’s early _lowres

Jeffery Keller

One in nine people in Louisiana are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by age 65, and one in three may develop the disease by 85 — totaling 5.3 million people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in our country today. While Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death, it is the only disease among the top 10 that has no medications capable of preventing the disease or slowing its progression.

This form of dementia initially affects memory, but as it becomes more severe over time, it affects cognition and language, ultimately impairing the ability of individuals to take care of themselves.

The holiday season is significant because it is often the time when family members begin to suspect that a loved one may have a significant cognitive impairment beyond normal aging. Commonly, relatives from out of town notice for the first time their loved one struggling to get through their daily routine or normal activities — signs that progress gradually and may not be noticed by relatives who spend more time with that family member. Also, November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

While the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease requires trained medical professionals, we recommend relatives keep an eye open for these warning signs in loved ones:

Dropping of work, social activities or hobbies

An inability to successfully complete daily activities, such as keeping up with medicine, paying bills or remembering appointments, despite increased reminders, prompting or assistance

Inability to do once routine things like balancing a checkbook or remembering the route to familiar places

Becoming increasingly withdrawn, struggling to maintain a conversation or relying on others to finish their sentences during a conversation.

Inability to recall new information

Some of these signs can be considered part of the normal aging process or can signify more serious problems, so it’s essential to help ensure you and your loved ones speak to their physician about any symptoms you may notice.

The IDRP, one of Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s world-class facilities, is the only Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Site between Houston and Birmingham, ranking it among the top Alzheimer’s research institutions in the country, alongside Harvard University, Yale University and the Mayo Clinic. The IDRP offers free, detailed brain assessments and fall risk assessments as part of one of the largest longitudinal brain aging studies in the U.S. It currently has more than 2,000 participants enrolled from Louisiana and other states. The study is making significant advances in helping to identify the triggers for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Additionally, the IDRP also has three large-scale clinical research studies underway that are testing medications that may slow or prevent the development of dementia altogether.

While the possibility of an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis can be daunting, equipping yourself with accurate information and partnering with your doctor to develop a care plan to deal with possible changes can bring comfort to you and your loved ones.

We recommend people over the age of 60 take advantage of Pennington Biomedical’s free annual assessments, which provide greater sensitivity in assessing changes in cognitive ability.

Pennington Biomedical offers free screenings for Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment and also welcomes participants and family members in the clinical trials in progress aimed at finding treatments — and ultimately a cure — for this devastating disease. Visit www.idrp.pbrc.edu for more information about screenings. For more information about warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.