Navigating Patients and Caregivers Through the Course of Alzheimers Disease

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Alzheimer’s disease (AD) prevalence rates in the United States are expected to triple over the next 50 years, a consequence of the overall aging of the U.S. population. Because of the profound and far-reaching impact of AD, this projected increase in prevalence is expected to pose a tremendous challenge. Alzheimer’s disease results in the cognitive and functional deterioration of the affected patient, and behavioral disturbances frequently accompany the disease. Furthermore, because of its progressive and debilitating nature, AD takes a dramatic emotional, physical, and financial toll on the patient’s primary caregiver. Nonetheless, despite the burden experienced by both patients and caregivers, strategies for minimizing the negative consequences of AD are well characterized. Central to the successful management of AD is the prompt and accurate diagnosis of the disease, with current guidelines calling for a 2-tiered approach in which patients first undergo screening using a brief cognitive assessment tool, followed by a comprehensive battery of physical, psychological, and neurologic tests if signs of possible cognitive impairment are evident upon screening. Once a conclusive diagnosis of AD has been made, the development of a disease management approach targeting the needs of the patient and his or her caregiver becomes a primary concern. Pharmacologic interventions may play an important role in such approaches, as agents such as cholinesterase inhibitors and the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist memantine have been associated with favorable outcomes for patients and caregivers alike. However, in addition to the therapeutic benefits of these agents, associated side effects and potential drug-drug interactions must also factor into decisions regarding the pharmacologic treatment of AD.

J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67(suppl 3):8-14