Proper Treatment for Alzheimer’s in Chapel Hill Residents Requires Knowing the Different Forms

October 21, 2016 | By Lorenzo Mejia

Alzheimer’s is the disease that robs you of your memory. You may even become alarmed when you notice a faltering memory in your loved one or yourself. However, memory loss is just one facet of Alzheimer’s. There are actually two to three different forms of the disease. Many physicians may not even diagnose the disease if there are not traditional memory complaints.

The most common form of Alzheimer’s is associated with memory loss. There is early on-set which begins in your 40’s-50’s or you develop it as you age when you reach your 70’s or 80’s. Early onset is mainly a genetic disorder while late onset is more expected as we age. The gene is one factor, but there are other contributing factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, physical activity, nutrition and vascular disease.

The second form of Alzheimer’s appears as visual and spatial problems rather than memory. They start to have trouble with maps, directions and balance and begin seeing the eye doctor instead of their physician. This type of Alzheimer’s is called posterior cortical atrophy. The loss of brain tissue manifests in the back of the brain which is responsible for visual processing. When the disease progresses, they begin to have memory lapses and all the other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Since the first presentation is different, they are often misdiagnosed.

The third form of Alzheimer’s affects the front part of the brain and is called frontal variant. It is associated with language and behavior. The person first notices changes in their behavior and personality. They may have trouble with language and find it difficult to finish a sentence or choose the right word. These patients often go see a psychiatrist while others see an eye doctor. The best gatekeeper for these symptoms is the primary physician. They can screen the patient and send home questions for the spouse and family to address.

It is important for the family to know that memory loss is not the only problem for cognitive disorders. Families need to be more aware of the different forms of Alzheimer’s. If your loved one has trouble with directions or getting lost or if they have problem with their eyes, but nothing can be found during an eye exam, it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. If you or a family member is having any of those symptoms, it is time to start having a conversation at your annual physical.

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