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Just Ask: Your Alzheimer's questions answered

9:49 PM, Aug 5, 2012   |    comments
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(WZZM) - In this Just Ask segment, we answer your questions about Alzheimer's with Susan Price, a Nurse Practitioner with Saint Mary's Hauenstein Center which houses the area's most complete neurosciences center for brain diseases.

To watch the segment, click on the video link. To learn more about the Hauenstein Center click here.

Answers to other questions that we did not have time for in the segment are below.

Q: Judy FitzGerald Hirdes - What's the difference between dementia & Alzheimer's?

A: Dementia is a term that describes a person who has some dependencies (unable to manage finances, medications, etc...) based on their memory symptoms. There are numerous types of dementias. Alzheimer's is one of those types of dementias.


Q: Amanda Vanholstyn - How long do people with either one of these actually can live and be content and somewhat happy for real? I have a number in my head from yrs back but, I would like to hear it from a Dr. or expert in this area...Thanks!

A: This differs from person to person, memory diagnosis, symptoms they have with their memory diagnosis, stage of the dementia at diagnosis and age. Going to a memory specialist can be helpful as the main goal is to continue to maintain a good quality of life for the patient and their caregivers. Many people continue to have a good quality of life years after diagnosis based on the above factors.


Q: Nikki Jorgensen - How does a person go about getting a diagnosis for Alzheimer's or dementia and are there different degrees of it?

A: Going to someone who specializes in Memory Disorders is the most ideal situation. At the Hauenstein Neuroscience Center at Saint Mary's we see people for consultation and they undergo a cognitive screening that evaluates different areas of the brain. Based on the findings from these patterns, the history of their symptoms, and neurological examination generally we are able to determine what cognitive disorder or dementia a person has. There are other specialists like Neurologists, Geriatricians, some Primary Care Doctors, or Neuropsychologists who also specialize in this area. Occasionally further testing is required. Be wary if the only testing that occurs is a clock-drawing test. This is not sufficient information to give a diagnosis.


Q: Renee Beaumont - How do you get your loved one to go to the doctor when they don't think they have a problem with memory loss?

A: This can be tough as people often do not realize they have a memory problem. Sometimes the easiest way is to touch base with the Primary Care Provider (PCP) first and express your concerns. It is helpful to write down specific examples of what you have been noticing. An appointment for a "check-up" can be made and the provider can bring it up with the loved one then. The PCP can then refer on for appropriate testing.


Q: Lee Lamberts - My mother is 98, almost 99, and in the dementia wing of a nursing home in Lansing. What amazes me the most is that I could visit her two days in a row and she would not remember me being there yesterday, yet when I broke out a photo from, oh, the 1940s, and asked her who that was standing between her sister and her, she didn't waste a moment telling me it was he step-mom. Can you explain how that works?

A: The area of the brain responsible for new memory is often damaged first in dementia. Therefore memories cannot be stored in the brain effectively and recalled later. There is a separate place in the brain responsible for "old memories." This area is generally preserved until advanced stages of dementia.


Q: Lee Lamberts -Can repeated concussions, such as football players and hockey players experience, lead to Alzheimer's or dementia?

A: There is a lot of mixed evidence for and against the link between dementia and head injuries. The truth is we don't quite know yet.


Q: Sands Kathryne - What part of the brain is affected? What are the best and most recent treatments?

A: The part of the brain affected by dementia depends of the type of dementia a person has. This is how we can help determine the type of dementia a person has based on testing regions of the brain through screening. 

Unfortunately there is little we have to offer those who are diagnosed with most dementias. There are a class of medications called cholinesterase inhibitors which we offer to patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia or Parkinsons Disease Dementia. These can help with the symptoms or progression in some cases. There are many different research studies looking at different treatment options in dementia.


Q: Shavaun Langston Savage - Can you tell me the difference between the 2? Myth is Dementia is the intro to Alzheimer's. Is this true?

A: Dementia is a term that describes a person who has some dependencies (unable to manage finances, medications etc) based on their memory symptoms. There are numerous types of dementias. Alzheimer's is one of those types of dementias.


Q: Brian Marlow - Are certain lifestyles more inclined to lead to Alzheimer's and/or dementia? For example somebody who drinks heavily or does a lot of street drugs, or is it all based solely on genetics?

A: There are several different types of dementias and some are more likely to occur based on lifestyle changes. We know that any risk factor for stroke (high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, cocaine use, etc) puts people at a higher risk for developing vascular dementia. Also frequent heavy alcohol consumption is related to a type of dementia as well. Exercise, healthy diet, and management of chronic health conditions can reduce the risk of developing certain types of dementias.


Q: Michelle Norquist - I'd like info. on local support groups for caregivers...esp. free or low-cost ones. It would be helpful to have someone (qualified) to help work through denial, anger, grief and acceptance.

A: Check out www.alz.org and go to "in my area" and click on the support group link. Saint Mary's Health Care and the West Michigan Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has a group that meets the first Wednesday of the month from 6:30 to 8pm in the Lacks Grand Room.


Q: Jillian VanderWood - Is there any link between white matter lesions on the brain and Alzheimer's & Dementia. I was told I have lesions on my frontal lobe and was told it was not MS. No one can explain to me why they are there and what that could mean to me in the future. I fear it causing me problems like Dementia in the future. What are you thoughts on this?

A: This question is hard to answer because I do not know the cause of your "lesions." I do not typically see lesions in the brain on people we suspect to have Alzheimer's Dementia unless they have another medical condition occurring (such as vascular changes). I would suggest maintaining a healthy lifestyle and seeking out the opinion of another neurologist regarding your MRI.


Q: Christi Caughey Broersma - I have it in my history - my Mom and her Mother lived with this at the end of their lives. What are my chances of having it later in my life?

A: Alzheimer's Dementia is very common, but rarely linked to a specific gene. Your biggest risk factor is aging and is probably of similar risk to the rest of the population.

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