According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and by the year 2050, it is expected to reach 17 million. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes memory loss and the loss of other important mental functions. “It is the number one cause of dementia,” shares James Rider, M.D. Family Medicine and Geriatric Medicine physician for The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus. “I believe early detection of Alzheimer’s is extremely important due to financial reasons and the effectiveness of medications we currently have available.”
So what symptoms should you and your family look for? “The public most commonly thinks declining memory is the telltale sign,” shares Dr. Rider. “However, several patients will experience some slight behavioral problems first.” If you are over the age of 65, Dr. Rider recommends you visit your primary care provider for Alzheimer testing. “If your family member starts experiencing forgetfulness or starts getting lost on their way to routine places, those are early cognizant symptoms. Alzheimer’s can also cause behavioral problems such as anxiety or depression.”
Do any of these symptoms ring a bell? While testing is certainly recommended, Dr. Ryder shares, those who visit him thinking they have Alzheimer’s, typically do not. “It is usually a family member or spouse who notices the symptoms listed above,” he shares. “Not the patient themselves. If you are worried you have Alzheimer’s because you can’t remember as much or cannot recall as many names, then you probably do not have it. Most Alzheimer’s patients do not notice the decline in their own health, which is why it is important for spouses and family members to know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s so they can detect it as early as possible.”
Although Alzheimer’s is not completely preventable, due to genetics, there are certain recommended lifestyle habits that can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “Eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and restricting your calorie intake can reduce your risk since obesity has been linked with Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Rider. “Exercise is also recommended and has been shown to help to decrease the amount of time it takes for this disease to come to the surface.”
If Alzheimer’s runs in your family, there are genetic strain tests available. “If you are concerned you may develop Alzheimer’s because of your parents, we can test for it to see if you have that genotype or not.”
If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there currently is not a known cure, however, there are medications available to reduce your symptoms. “The approved medications compliment each other and can be used together to reduce your symptoms,” says Dr. Rider. “They work most effectively if administered in the early stages of this disease. There is a lot still going on in research to find a cure for this disease. Unfortunately, we have had over 600 medications that have failed to-date, but we are still hopeful and support the fight to cure Alzheimer’s disease.”
Dr. Rider has been practicing family medicine in Valley Falls for over 40 years and is passionate about geriatric medicine. “I decided to specialize in geriatric medicine because I wanted to help with medication management of our elderly population,” he shares. “That is what led me to become board-certified to help fill the gap between primary care providers and the treatment of patients once they move into assisted living or nursing homes. It is very rewarding if I can increase their quality of life and help with their behavioral issues.”
Dr. James Rider’s Family Medicine practice is part of The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus and is located at 403 Sycamore in Valley Falls, KS. To schedule an appointment, please call 785-945-3263.