While there are drugs and other therapies to help slow down the disease, there remains no cure.
As the country’s population ages, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are becoming more common. More than 5 million people in the U.S. currently have the disease, and that number could rise to as much as 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The group estimates Virginia alone is home to 140,000 seniors living with the condition.
Common symptoms—such as difficulty with language and challenges with memory, solving problems and making decisions—often go beyond what is considered normal for aging, particularly when they begin to impact a patient’s ability to manage daily living.
Terence McCormally, a family and geriatric doctor at Fairfax Family Practice, says family members should keep an eye on their aging loved ones and speak up if they notice changes that concern them.
“When people come to the doctor worried about their own memory, there’s almost nothing wrong with their memory—it’s when their daughter or their spouse comes in that there’s much more likely to be something wrong,” he says. “You need another person to interview about the symptoms.”
Unfortunately, while there are drugs and other therapies designed to help slow the progression of the disease and keep patients comfortable, there remains no cure.
Those in the early stages of dementia are commonly given medicines known as cognitive enhancers that can help reduce the impact of the disease in the short term, although they don’t stop Alzheimer’s altogether. As the disease advances, behavior management can be helpful for keeping patients calm and safe.
“If the person is wandering out of the house at 7 a.m., maybe it’s because they think they’re going to work—that can be a really disruptive problem,” says McCormally. “You’ve got to try to do stuff to understand the person’s behavior in terms of triggers.”