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Alzheimer’s Disease

Due to the overwhelming number of questions we received in June 2010, we have consulted with Dr. Tierney and are bringing you answers to some common questions as well as myths about Alzheimer’s, courtesy of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

Over the years, many myths have evolved about what Alzheimer's disease is, who gets it and how it affects people who have it. These myths can add to the stigma attached to the disease and stand in the way of our ability to understand and help people who have it. The Alzheimer Society believes that the sooner we dispel the myths, the better we'll be able to respond to the reality. Find out more about Alzheimer’s Disease: Myth and Reality.

Here are the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s answers to some common questions about Alzheimer’s Disease.

Q: I believe my wife has Alzheimer's disease. How can I get her to see her doctor?

A:If your wife is reluctant to see her doctor, this can be a tricky situation. You might try one the following:

Suggest she go for an annual check-up – she may be more comfortable getting an overall check-up than seeing the doctor for memory problems. Many symptoms that look like Alzheimer's disease can be caused by other treatable conditions, so it's important to get a thorough assessment if you have concerns.

Contact the doctor's office directly. Explain your concerns and ask if they will invite your wife in for a check-up. She might be more willing if the doctor suggests the appointment.


Q: My mother died with Alzheimer's disease and I'm worried that I might get it. Is it hereditary?

A: There are two types of Alzheimer's disease. Familial Autosomal Dominant (FAD) occurs in five to 10 per cent of cases and has a genetic link. In order for FAD to occur, the disease needs to be apparent over several generations of one family. Sporadic Alzheimer's Disease is more common (90-95 per cent) and people with this type may or may not have a family history of the disease. The Alzheimer Society’s Heredity page gives more information on this.


Q: The doctor told my father he is in the middle stage of Alzheimer's disease. What does this mean?

A: The process of Alzheimer's disease can be described as a series of stages. Staging Alzheimer's disease gives people with the disease, doctors and caregivers a general guide to the pattern of the disease. This can help them make care decisions throughout the course of the disease.

The order in which the symptoms appear and the length of each stage will vary from person to person. There is no clear line when one stage ends and another begins. In many cases, stages will overlap. See the Stages section of the Alzheimer Society website for more information about the three stages (early, middle, late) or the seven stages described in the Global Deterioration Scale. Whichever staging system is used, or if none is used, it's important to remember that the disease affects each person differently.


Q: Does a person die from Alzheimer's disease?

A: Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain where brain cells continue to die over time. There is no cure to stop the progression and eventually the body will shut down. People usually die of secondary infection, such as pneumonia.


Q: Can the family doctor diagnose Alzheimer's disease?

A: A comprehensive assessment needs to be done by a trained physician for the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to be made. The person's family doctor may be able to do this assessment. Or she may refer to a memory clinic or specialist, such as a geriatrician or neurologist. You can contact your local Alzheimer Society to find professionals in your community. Visit the Diagnosis page of the Alzheimer Society website for more information on how the diagnosis is made.


Q: Can depression bring on symptoms like Alzheimer's disease?

A: Depression can have symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. It is important to see a doctor if any symptoms are present because often times the condition, such as depression, can be treated. See the Alzheimer Society’s list of 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease for more information.


Q: Can people get Alzheimer's disease in their 40s?

A: While most people get Alzheimer's disease after the age of 65, Alzheimer's disease can affect people under the age of 65. This is usually called "early onset Alzheimer's disease."


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