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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Dealing With Alzheimer's Disease Memory Loss

How to Cope With Memory Loss in the Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease
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Alzheimer’s Memory Loss

In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients have mild decline in mental functioning. For example, they may read something but retain very little of the information. Or family, friends, and co-workers may notice that they struggle to recall words or names.

In mid-stage Alzheimer’s, major memory and thinking problems emerge. People may forget important information, such as their address or phone number, and they may become confused about their whereabouts.

In the severe or late stages, some patients become agitated, depressed, or have hallucinations. They lose their ability to speak and control movement and become incapable of responding to their surroundings. People can live from three to 20 years with Alzheimer’s, but on average, they die four to six years after diagnosis.

As many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“This is such a devastating diagnosis,” says Beth A. Kallmyer, MSW, director of family and information services for the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. Many newly diagnosed people think immediately of severely impaired, late-stage patients, Kallmyer says. But “what’s happening now is that people are getting diagnosed earlier and earlier and they’re still able to participate in lots of different things in their lives.”

“There’s no cure for this disease,” Kallmyer adds, “but we can help them put some things in place, make those plans, think about the best way to address their long-term-care concerns. If they address it early on, they’re empowered to participate in that process and we think that’s really important.”

Medications

There are no drugs to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but several medications may help improve mental functioning temporarily in some patients. A group of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors works by supporting communication among nerve cells by keeping acetylcholine levels high.

“They only work a specific period of time and they don’t work for everyone,” Kallmyer cautions.

However, MacInnes takes Aricept, a cholinesterase inhibitor, and has found it helpful, he says. “I’m still fairly lucid and articulate.”

A different type of drug, Namenda, may be prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. It contains memantine, which regulates the activity of glutamate, a chemical involved in learning and memory.

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