Alzheimer’s Is No. 1 Cause of Dementia
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please give me information on Alzheimer’s disease. I am very active. I would appreciate anything you can tell me about this illness. — H.N.
ANSWER: Alzheimer’s disease is the No. 1 cause of dementia. Dementias are illnesses that lead to progressive loss of mental function. With Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss is prominent, especially loss of memory for the recent past and a loss of the ability to retain new information in the memory bank.
Alzheimer’s patients have great difficulty finding even simple words to express themselves. They become lost in familiar places. As the illness progresses, they find it difficult to perform simple tasks, like dressing themselves. Judgment becomes poor. In summer they might wear clothes suited for winter. Numbers lose all meaning to them. Frequently, they become confused and suspicious. They no longer recognize the faces of close family members.
The brains of those with Alzheimer’s shrink because brain cells are lost. With microscopic examination of an Alzheimer’s brain, deposits of amyloid, a protein material, are seen. They look like lumps of lava from a volcano, and they presumably kill off brain cells and block communication between them. Tangles of another protein called tau also are scattered through the brain. What leads to the formation of these proteins is as yet unknown.
No medicine cures Alzheimer’s disease, but some medicines slow its progress. Three medicines increase the brain’s supply of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that permits brain cells to communicate with each other. Those medicines are Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine) and Razadyne (galantamine). Namenda (memantine) is a fourth medicine that works in a different way.
The booklet on Alzheimer’s disease discusses this prevalent illness in detail. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 903W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: As a child, my mother made me drink eight glasses of water every day. She said water flushed out poisons. Does it? — B.D.
ANSWER: No, it doesn’t. The average, healthy person can let thirst be the guide to the need for fluid. All fluids count, not just water.
I am positive I will hear from people who say I should mention the diuretic effect of some fluids, but there actually is a net gain of fluid to the body even from drinks that encourage urine production.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I read your article on osteoporosis, as I have it. I was put on Actonel (risedronate) by my former doctor. My new doctor had me switch to Fosamax (alendronate) when it came out as a generic. This doctor says you must take vitamin D and calcium also. Are they necessary? — B.G.
ANSWER: They are necessary. They work hand in hand with osteoporosis medicines. Calcium is the mineral needed for strong bones. Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium from the digestive tract into the blood. Not having a supply of these two is like trying to build a sandcastle without sand.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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