Current Alzheimer’s therapies are what Dr. Steven Rapcsak calls “symptomatic treatments," which means they can temporarily improve symptoms, but not actually stop the disease.
New “disease modifying therapies”, however, may be on the horizon to prevent or even halt the progression of Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer's related dementia.
Although not everyone will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s, Rapcsak, who is a professor in the University of Arizona Department of Neurology, said age is the number one risk factor.
“About 90 percent of the cases occur in people over the age of 65," he explained.
He said the first sign to be on the watch for is memory impairments that impede an elderly person's daily functioning.
“Imagine one day you wake up and you don't know who you are...You don't know why you are there, and you don't know how you got where you are at," said Kelly Raach, the regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association Desert Southwest Chapter.
Alzheimer's robs ones memories and eventually the ability to function, "Brushing their teeth becomes a huge obstacle, or a huge task to complete," Raach said.
Caregivers often end up with chronic conditions themselves, as their focus shifts from their own health and well-being to the person with dementia, she added.
Raach and Rapcsak will be part of the 20th annual Southern Arizona Mayor's Education Conference, scheduled for Wednesday, March 12. This year, the conference will emphasize those people who have recently received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
Raach said caregivers can find additional free resources such as a 24/7 help-line, support groups, family care consultation, safety services, and programs for people in the early stages of dementia, through the Alzheimer's Association.