by Julie Cleveland
The UW Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) annual public forum was held on May 14, at Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland, Wash. The turnout was great, with over 125 people attending from the greater Seattle area. The program was sponsored by the ADRC, Friends of Alz-heimer's Research, and the UW de Tornyay Center on Healthy Aging. Dr. Susan McCurry, with the ADRC Training and Information Core, introduced the program.
The first speaker of the night was James Bowen, MD on "Contemporary and Experimental Treatments for Alz-heimer's Disease (AD)." Dr. Bowen is an assistant professor in the University of Washington Medical School's department of neurology. The medications that are currently approved by the United States Federal Drug Administration to treat AD are tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. These drugs are known as cholinesterase inhibitors, and work by helping prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is important for memory and other thinking skills. Nonprescription medications such as Vitamin E and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may produce modest improvements but physicians should monitor their use because of possible side effects. Several new treatments are currently being tested in clinical trials, including the drug memantine, which has shown positive results thus far (for more information on memantine, refer to the Question & Answer article in this issue). Dr. Bowen concluded his talk by discussing the direction of future research related to AD. He pointed out that we now have a much better understanding of the brain changes that occur in people with AD, and new treatments are being developed that may not only stop disease progression but also reverse these damaging changes.
The second speaker was Sue Schepp, RN, BSN, on "Stages of Alzheimer's Disease and How Caregiving Changes as the Disease Progresses." Schepp is the education director of the Alzheimer's Association, Western and Central Washington chapter. AD is often referred to as having 3 stages: early, mid-, and late. During the early stage of the disease, a person has mild cognitive impairment, difficulty learning and retaining new information, spatial orientation problems, and problems with tasks that require reasoning or judgment. During this stage, it is important to encourage independence, be supportive and non-judgmental, establish routines, maintain good nutrition, eliminate environmental hazards and provide rest periods. The mid-stage of AD may be characterized with an increase in behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, wandering and agitation. Thus, treatment should focus on identifying what, where and when these behaviors occur, and then problem solving to help reduce these behaviors. The late stage of AD is when the person's verbal abilities and motor skills diminish, and they become incontinent. At this stage, treatment focuses on satisfying the person's physical comfort needs, and providing a range of positive stimuli such as touch, music and exercise. Remember, the goal for care during all stages of the disease is to maintain the person's level of functioning, comfort, and quality of life for as long as possible.
Plans for next year's forum are already underway. Remember to mark your calendars, and save the date for the first week in May!