As reported by the New Britain Herald, February 8, 2005.

Alzheimer’s Cause Still Unknown But Treatment Can Help Victims

By Tricia Stuart

FARMINGTON - Patrick Coll, associate director and professor in Family Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center, said doctors are still not clear about the causes of Alzheimer’s, the mentally debilitating disease of old age.

"We know the pathology, what happens in the brain. What we know is Alzheimer’s is probably a series of diseases, each related, with a different set of causes," he said.

Although the cause is unknown, the best doctors can do is to treat Alzheimer’s and ease the difficulties that it causes.

Alzheimer’s causes short-term memory impairment and other cognitive disabilities, Coll said, and it is the cause of two-thirds of dementia. It is primarily a disease of old age.

"One to 2 percent of people over 65 get Alzheimer’s and 50 percent of the people who are age 90 or older get Alzheimer’s. The most common early symptom is short-term memory impairment, but as the disease progresses, other components of cognition are affected," Coll said.

The person can experience disorientation, and visual-spatial skills can be impaired. In the moderate stages of the disease, people with Alzheimer’s have problems putting the numbers and hands on the face of a model clock. How a clock looks is something that most people take for granted, yet this gives Alzheimerís patients difficulties.

Behavioral problems of Alzheimer’s patients, such as restlessness, agitation, impulsiveness, delusions, and paranoia, "can be quite distressing to the patient and to their family," said Coll.

The disease progresses in all patients in 5 to 12 years. Some patients may live for a considerable period of time, and death is usually caused by complications from pneumonia, such as an injury from falling, or malnutrition due to not eating well, or a lack of interest in eating.

"Physicians rarely put Alzheimer’s down as the cause of death on a death certificate. They may put down pneumonia, yet Alzheimer’s may be a contributing factor," said Coll.

To date, there isn’t a specific blood test, or X-Ray, or other test for Alzheimer’s. Coll said Alzheimer’s could only be designated at a post-mortem examination. Until a cure can be found, treatment for the disease is the best that can be done for an Alzheimer’s patient.

"Two drugs work variably in patients. The magnitude of the effect is to slow down the effect of Alzheimer’s by 50 percent. Some patients witness an improvement over several months. Stabilization or slowing down the progression of the disease is important," said Coll.

Doctors can also counsel the patient and family so they know what to expect. Social services agencies can help keep the patient at home and to help them while they are at home. Medications help sufferers of depression or delusions.

"If the person is moderately affected, they need help to make doctor appointments, and someone to help them through the process, with diagnosis and following through with treatment," Coll said.

From Coll’s perspective, many patients live a productive and meaningful life.

Some people go to see the doctor, on their own initiative, with a memory problem. Of those, tests reveal that some don’t have problems; others have a condition that may lead to Alzheimer’s. Sometimes a family member or a doctor or social services agency refers the patients.

"It’s not normal to have major difficulties with memory when you’re older. If family members know there is a significant problem with memory, then they should seek help. Early diagnosis will lead to early treatment. Even though we don’t have a cure, we have a treatment," Coll said.