Articles by Christine A. Moriarty
Health Care Articles that appeared in the Holyoke Sun " Healthy At Home" weekly column
Dr. Alois Alzheimer was the first to define Alzheimer’s Disease in 1906. Today, approximately 4 million Americans have the disease and by the middle of the next century, it is estimated that 14 million Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is the third most expensive disease in the United States with costs averaging $12,500 per year and a total cost of over $174,000 throughout the patient'’ lifetime.
In November of 1994, former president Ronald Reagan announced to the world that he had been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. At that moment, he became one of the seven out of ten persons with that disease who were living at home and being cared for by their families.
What is Alzheimer’s disease? It is a degenerative disease that attacks the brain causing impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. It begins with a slow decline in the individual’s ability to recall familiar tasks or recent events, progressing gradually and causing confusion, personality and behavior changes, and impaired judgement. Speech becomes more difficult as the affected person struggles to communicate – losing words, and unable to finish thoughts or comprehend simple directions. As the disease progresses individuals with Alzheimer’s become unable to care for themselves.
The cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown. Early diagnosis is important however, because there are treatments designed to alleviate some of the symptoms. Although existing drug treatments provide only symptomatic relief, they may delay the progression of the decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of early warning signs that may be helpful in determining if you or someone you know may need to see a physician for a more thorough examination. (Note: some of these warning signs may also apply to other dementing illnesses.)
1. Memory loss that affects job skills – frequent episodes of forgetfulness or unexplained confusion at home.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks – preparing a meal and not only forgetting to serve it, but forgetting that they made it.
3. Problems with language – forgetting simple words, or substituting inappropriate words in sentences, making conversation difficult to understand.
4. Disorientation as to time and place – getting lost on their own street, not knowing who they are or how to get back home.
5. Poor or decreased judgement – not dressing in appropriate clothing, i.e. wearing a bathrobe to the store or wearing layers of shirts on a hot day.
6. Problems with abstract thinking – unable to recognize numbers in a checkbook, or perform basic calculations.
7. Misplacing things – Putting an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl, with no recollection of how they got there.
8. Changes in mood or behavior – people with Alzheimer’s tend to have rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.
9. Changes in personality – in a person with Alzheimer’s, the changes can be dramatic; from easy going to angry, suspicious, or fearful.
10. Loss of initiative – may become disinterested or uninvolved in many of their usual activities or social connections.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s occurs after physical, psychological, and neurological are conducted; a thorough medical history is obtained; and other medical conditions are ruled out one by one.
Two drugs have been approved by the FDA to aid in treating the loss of memory and the decline in cognitive abilities – Cognex® (tacrine) and Aricept® (donepezil). Although these medications cannot cure Alzheimer’s, they have been shown to be effective for those individuals in the mild to moderate stages of the disease. They may also improve behavior problems.
Alzheimer’s Disease can run from 8 to 20 years. Information and knowledge are important factors that can be beneficial for both those affected by the disease and their caregivers.
Heart Disease and Stroke - Warning Signs.
Are you at risk for heart attack or stroke? Do you know the warning signs and when to seek medical help? During American Heart Month, information is being provided by the American Heart Association to help people become knowledgeable about cardiovascular disease and stroke. Because of education and research, lives are being saved and disabilities from heart disease and stroke are being reduced.
One third of all heart attacks are fatal and half of these people die before reaching a hospital. Those who do survive often suffer irreversible damage to the heart muscle. Heart attacks do have beginnings and warning signs, and early recognition can save your life.
The American Heart Association has prepared a checklist of early warning signs.
Do you have chest discomfort with light-headedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath?
Have you noticed a pain spreading from the shoulders, arm or neck?
Do you feel discomfort, tightness, squeezing or fullness, usually in the chest, for more than 2 minutes? (The discomfort may subside and return again feeling more severe each time.)
Do you feel pressure, aching or burning in the chest? This feeling frequently becomes more intense with activity and decreases with rest.
Have you noticed discomfort in the teeth, jaw, inner arm or back?
Not all of these warning signs happen with every heart attack. What if you are not sure if it is heartburn or a heart attack? Ask if the pain is located in the middle of the chest; does it return; does it become more painful each time it returns; does it become more uncomfortable with activity and stop at rest? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, seek help quickly.
Remember - Be Heart Smart - time saves lives and can prevent disabilities. The sooner medical treatment is sought, the greater the recovery and the less chance of after-effects.
Similar to the onset of a heart attack, a stroke can occur suddenly. What is a stroke? Strokes are caused by a blockage in an artery or the rupture of a blood vessel. The most common type of stroke is thrombotic. This is when fatty substances build up on the inner walls of arteries, narrowing the passageway for the blood. If a blood clot forms in a narrowed artery leading toward the brain, it can cut off the blood supply.
Some of the symptoms of stroke are: difficulty speaking or understanding speech; numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arms or legs; especially when noted on one side of the body; a sudden change in vision in one eye, dimness, blurred vision or decreased vision; a sudden and severe headache different from a normal headache; brief loss of consciousness or period of decreased consciousness; unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially when noted along with any of the above symptoms.
If these warning signs are noticed, do not hesitate to seek immediate medical help for yourself (via ambulance) or to transport the person displaying these signs to a medical facility.
But what do you do if the symptoms come and go? In some people, the signs of a stroke occur and then suddenly disappear. Often these symptoms are ignored, but they may signal a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack. A TIA occurs when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery preventing the flow of blood to the brain. More than 75% of all TIA’s last less than 5 minutes. Unlike a stroke, when the TIA is over, the person returns to normal. TIA’s are a serious warning signal. Approximately one-third of all persons who experience a TIA will later have a stroke. In about 20% of the cases, the stroke will happen within a year of the TIA. Medical intervention after a TIA can often prevent a stroke. Medication, surgery, or both may be recommended to reduce the risk that a full stroke will occur.
Because so many people are unfamiliar with the signals and the urgent necessity of medical intervention, medical treatment for stroke victims is often delayed. Studies have shown that the average time span between when symptoms appear and when medical treatment begins is 24 hours. That is much longer than the 6-hour “therapeutic window” that doctors have designated as having the most positive outcome for the patient. Complications, such as a second stroke or a heart attack may be prevented with monitoring, medication or surgery, if necessary.
Age is one of the factors that increases your risk of stroke - older persons have a much higher risk. Men are 30% more likely than women to have a stroke, and those who have a family history of heart disease or stroke are also at increased risk.
Learn the warning signs, respond quickly and stay Heart Healthy.