About Alzheimer’s Disease
Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains age as we grow older. However, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is not a normal part of aging. Changes to the brain associated with AD that set it apart from healthy aging include the toxic accumulation of proteins called beta-amyloid and tau, inflammation, damage to the blood vessels in the brain, and widespread death of brain cells (neurons). AD is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning that damage to and death of neurons progresses over time. The exact cause of AD is the subject of intense scientific interest and debate, but current evidence suggests that genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors may all play a role in condition onset.
AD accounts for 60-80% of dementia diagnoses and is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. As the population ages, and more people live longer, an increasing number of people are affected by AD.
Types of Alzheimer’s Disease:
Alzheimer’s disease is classified by age and cause of symptom onset.
Types of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease: Most common form of AD in which patients typically first notice symptoms in their mid-60s. Genetics may or may not play a role in late-onset AD
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease: Rare hereditary form of AD that can develop as soon as one’s mid-30s
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms tend to worsen as neurodegeneration progresses.
Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may include:
- Difficulty learning new information
- Difficulty remembering recent events
Symptoms of more advanced Alzheimer’s disease may include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty recalling words or their meanings
- Mood or behavioral changes
- Poor judgment
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
While scientists are still working to determine the exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease, certain people are known to be at higher risk for the condition.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease may include:
- Age: While late-onset AD symptoms typically emerge in one’s mid-60s, early-onset AD can develop as early as one’s 30s
- Family history: Early-onset AD is known to be hereditary and late-onset AD may also have a genetic component
- Health history: A history of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure, as well as metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity, may increase your risk of AD
- Personal history: A sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, lack of sleep, and lack of social activity have all been linked to AD onset
Treating Alzheimer’s Disease at UT Health Austin
Current treatments focus on supporting individuals and families with education and counseling, managing symptoms with medications, and treating behavioral symptoms. There are medications approved by the FDA to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), and galantamine (Razadyne®) are typically used to treat mild to moderate symptoms. Memantine (Namenda®) is a medication approved to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. These medications affect chemicals in the brain that help with sending messages between neurons. These treatments may help manage symptoms but unfortunately, they are not a cure. They have proven effective for some but not all people and are most effective in the earliest stages. The FDA has also approved Aricept® and Namzaric®, a combination of Namenda® and Aricept®.
We are excited about the accelerated FDA approval of lecanemab, which is a new medication indicated for people in the very early stages of Alzheimer disease. It is not yet available to prescribe to patients because it needs to be reviewed by the various insurance companies to determine if they will cover it and under what conditions. Once a decision is made about insurance coverage and the drug becomes available, we will be happy to discuss the possibility of treatment with established patients who may qualify.
Our clinic uses an interprofessional approach, which means our patients have contact with multiple team members coming from multiple specialties. We discuss each patient as a team to identify the diagnosis and to develop a tailored treatment plan specific to your needs. Whatever your needs are, our team is here to listen and work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
Care Team Approach
At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines caring for you in one place to avoid having to schedule multiple appointments with providers at locations all over the city. The Comprehensive Memory Center care team includes neurologists, a geriatric psychiatrist, neuropsychologists, nurses, a speech-language pathologist, social workers, and more who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify new therapies to improve treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with referring physicians and other partners in the community to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.