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Alzheimer's Disease Clinical and Research Update for Health Care Practitioners

DOI: 10.1155/2013/207178

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Of the approximately 6.8 million Americans who have been diagnosed with dementia, over 5 million have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Due to the rise in the aging population, these figures are expected to double by 2050. The following paper provides an up-to-date review of clinical issues and relevant research. Research related to the methods of the earliest possible detection of AD is ongoing. Health care professionals should play a critical role in differentially diagnosing AD patients, as well as supporting their families. Novel interventions, including medications, natural supplements, and behavioral techniques, are constantly appearing in the literature. It is necessary for the health practitioner to remain current, regarding AD, as such information will facilitate better care for patients and their families. 1. Introduction Approximately 6.8 million individuals in the United States are affected by dementia [1], and approximately 5.3 million have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) [2]. As the elderly population continues to grow, these numbers are only expected to increase. AD has emerged as a serious public health concern, placing an immense burden on the individual, family, community, and health care resources. AD most frequently presents with episodic memory impairment as the earliest and most prominent feature, with additional deficits in language, semantic memory, executive functioning, visuospatial abilities, and functional impairment that emerge over the disease course [3]. A common misconception is that AD is a “normal” or expected occurrence of aging, and it is part of the typical trajectory of age-related cognitive decline. Rather, healthy aging has been found to be associated with relatively stable performance on measures of cognitive functioning when measured longitudinally. However, cross-sectional studies have indicated that some domains of cognitive functioning do in fact decline with age [4]. As individuals live to advanced ages (e.g., over the age of 80), it can become more challenging to differentiate between the subtle cognitive declines that accompany aging and those that signify early dementia [5]. The trajectory of AD is characterized along a continuum, ranging from healthy aging to preclinical AD, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and dementia. Pathological changes that underlie AD begin to accumulate for years, or even decades, before emotional, physical, or cognitive symptoms emerge, eventually reaching a threshold at which the onset of a gradual and progressive decline in cognition occurs [5].

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