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    Forgetful? Don't Assume It's Alzheimer's Disease

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    Waldemar says that the "20%-reversible dementia rate is very applicable worldwide."

    Bill Thies, PhD, vice president for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, tells WebMD that Waldemar is probably correct. He says that this is the group they want to target for identification and early treatment if the condition is indeed early Alzheimer's, but that they also need to find those people who have other conditions so they can be treated. The problem, says Thies, is that many people are reluctant to seek medical help for these symptoms.

    Ronald C. Peterson, MD, PhD, also feels that Waldemar's numbers are probably on target. He says that the study is important in terms of reminding American physicians that there are treatable causes of memory loss. Peterson is professor of neurology at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn.

    In addition to depression as a reversible cause, Waldemar says, "Thyroid disease and nutritional problems were also identified as a cause of mild memory disorders." Another cause was a problem with brain-fluid circulation, which is corrected by surgery. A small number of patients also had alcohol dependence as a cause, she adds.

    Waldemar says the current study was "just an identification study. We have no data on the effect of treatment." She says, however, that she and her colleagues are now conducting a treatment study.

    Vital Information:

    • Researchers from Denmark report that in their test group of patients showing minor memory problems, Alzheimer's disease was to blame in fewer than half the cases. About 20% of the patients had problems that could be reversed with treatment.
    • Experts note the 20%-reversible rule is probably true the world over. Depression is the most common reversible culprit, but thyroid disease, stress, and a brain-fluid circulation problem also can mimic Alzheimer's disease.
    • People often fear telling their doctors about the symptoms they may be experiencing, but experts say it's important to seek help because, many times, treatment can be successful.
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