July 9, 2000 -- In the fall of 1998, Barbara and Les Dennis sat at the table in their Chicago home, deep in the throes of retirement planning. Barbara had printed out a spreadsheet showing their sources of income as well as the bills they'd have to pay. Les, a college professor in his early 60s, studied it and then tossed it back on the table. "It doesn't make any sense," he told her. Figuring that Les' poor eyesight was at fault, Barbara redid the spreadsheet, using larger and bolder type, and patiently began to explain the figures. But Les exploded in frustration: "You're just trying to figure out how you can save all the money until I die!"
"That's when I knew something was really wrong," Barbara says. Les wasn't the type to erupt in anger, he wasn't given to irrational fears -- and as a professor at Loyola University, he certainly wasn't a man to get confused over a column of numbers.
Sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s disease lash out for no clear reason. They may get upset or angry easily. They may curse, hurl insults, or scream. They might even throw things or resist caregivers by pushing and hitting. This kind of aggression usually starts when people get to the later stages of the disease.
No one knows for sure why it happens. Aggression may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease itself. It could also be a reaction when a person feels confused or frustrated.
If your loved...
One month later, even Les agreed that something was wrong. He underwent testing for depression and anxiety. His brain was scanned for signs of a stroke. Finally, he took a battery of cognitive tests that gave him the diagnosis he dreaded: early Alzheimer's.
Just a few years ago, most of the estimated 4 million Americans with Alzheimer's weren't diagnosed until late in the disease, after they'd started getting lost on the way to the store or forgetting their grandchildren's names. But advances in early detection -- a primary theme at the World Alzheimer's Congress 2000 being held in Washington, D.C., from July 9-18 -- now make it possible for some to know that their brain is slowly deteriorating years before they fully lose their ability to think. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can identify subtle changes in structures of the brain that relate to memory. Cognitive tests now can distinguish early Alzheimer's from minor memory lapses that come with age.
Looking More Closely at the Brain
Leading researchers say there are good reasons to seek early detection: People have time to plan, to try drug therapy, and to live their last good years fully. Yet such knowledge comes at a high price: With no cure yet in sight, people like Les Dennis must live with the awareness that they are gradually slipping into dementia.