What You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease

April 26, 2019

Saad Dinno, pharmacist and owner of Acton pharmacy, Keyes Drug in Newton, and West Concord Pharmacy is the presenter of A Healthier You, a show that runs on Acton TV. The goal of the show is to discuss relevant health topics and provide information to the viewers that will guide them to a healthy lifestyle.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Dr. Brent Forrester, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at McLean Hospital.

Saad Dinno:

Today’s topic is Alzheimer’s disease. An estimated 5.7 million adults are living with Alzheimer’s today in the United States. I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Brent Forrester, who is an expert on the disease. Dr. Forrester is Chief of McLean Hospital’s division of geriatric psychiatry and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His work centers on the behavioral complications associated with Alzheimer’s and the stress these complications place on caregivers. As director of McLean’s geriatric psychiatry research program, he also investigates the causes of several mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorders that so affect the lives of his patients and their families. We have invited Dr. Forrester here today to better understand Alzheimer’s, its symptoms and treatments.

What do we know currently about the causes of Alzheimer’s? What are the risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Dr. Forrester:

As you just mentioned, Alzheimer’s disease affects 5.7 million Americans in the United States today. Only half of those people are diagnosed. Of the half that are diagnosed, they’re not diagnosed until they’re already in the moderate stage of the illness. They probably have been having symptoms for years before it comes to anyone’s attention.

The number one risk factor is age and the reason why we’re really in an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease is because the first baby boomer turned 65 in the year 2011 and over the next 30 years, we expect….about 15 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.

Not everyone who lives to be 85 will develop Alzheimer’s disease, but about 30 or 40 percent of people over the age of 85 today have Alzheimer’s disease and the older we get, the more likely we are to have the symptoms.

The number two risk factor is genetics. Now there are certain genes that are extraordinarily rare that cause Alzheimer’s disease uniformly in family members who are at risk. If your parent has the gene, you have a 50% chance of getting it yourself and if you get the gene, you’ll get Alzheimer’s disease. These are rare genes. The most famous is probably the Colombian cohort in South America. That group of 5000 families has a gene that gets passed down through the generations and if you get the gene, you get symptoms of the illness in your 30s and 40s, if not even younger.

But the most common gene is a risk factor gene called the APOE e4. However, if you have the gene, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the disease and if you don’t have the gene, it doesn’t mean you won’t get the disease.

The other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are many of the same risk factors that people with heart disease and stroke have, problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. That means there’s a lot that we can do to prevent or delay the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another one is depression. If you have a lifelong history of depression, with prior episodes of depression, your risk for Alzheimer’s disease goes up regardless of other medical factors or other genetic risk factors.

Watch the video to find the answers to these questions:

  1. Let’s say I’m concerned that my father is forgetting his keys or glasses all of a sudden and seems a little “off.” Should I be worried?
  2. What are some key differences among forgetfulness, dementia and Alzheimer’s?
  3. What tests are available for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease? What are the treatments and medications available today?
  4. How can I prevent this disease from developing? Are there special diets, supplements, or exercises that I should be doing at age 40 or 50?