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According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), more than 6 million Americans, many of them age 65 and older, are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In fact, AD is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and the most common cause of dementia among older adults. The prevalence of AD shows no signs of slowing, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the number of people with the disease “is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.” Nurse practitioners (NPs) have an important role in diagnosing early by recognizing the warning signs of AD in their patients and taking action against this progressive disease.
You are not alone in the pursuit of better AD, dementia and geriatric care in your community. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) encourages you to review the various tools and resources available to help you stay on the cutting edge of AD diagnosis and treatment. Read on to find out about a free AD continuing education (CE) opportunity available courtesy of AANP.
As you engage in conversations about aging with your patients and their loved ones, you may find it difficult to separate the concepts of AD and dementia in their minds. It’s important they understand that, although the terms are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. In fact, AD is just one of four kinds of dementia. According to the NIA’s infographic on Understanding Different Types of Dementia, “dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological conditions affecting the brain that get worse over time.” The four types of dementia are:
Of the four kinds of dementia, AD is the most common. Marked by wandering, impulsive behavior and repeating questions, AD does not carry the same movement, sleep and visual problems that come with other forms of dementia. To help make the distinction between these and other cognitive changes, AANP has developed an educational handout entitled “Aging, Cognitive Changes and Alzheimer’s Disease,” available on the AANP Neurology Clinical Resources page, to educate your patients and guide discussions about aging.
It’s vital that patients understand AD is not a natural or inevitable part of aging. In fact, studies show that nearly 40% of all AD and related dementias can be prevented or delayed. Patients whose AD is detected early have effective treatments available to them. You can encourage your patients to improve their brain health and prevent or slow the progression of cognitive illnesses by:
On top of educating patients about preventive care strategies to reduce their risk of dementia, it’s important to remind them of the warning signs of AD and how they differ from the normal cognitive changes of aging. As people age, it is normal to lose neurons in the brain and experience slower thinking speeds; trouble with multitasking; and occasional difficulties remembering names, dates and distant memories. These changes are typically subtle and do not disrupt one’s daily routine.
However, if your patients or their loved ones are experiencing cognitive changes that are disturbing their daily life, it is important that they seek care quickly to determine if they are experiencing the early signs of AD or other dementia. As listed in the NIA’s patient booklet on “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Need to Know,” the early signs of AD include:
If your patients or their loved ones suspect they are experiencing symptoms of AD, encourage them to make an appointment and get evaluated for cognitive impairment. Early diagnosis of AD and other dementia increases the chance that your patients will be eligible for clinical trials or existing treatment intended to slow disease progression.
Join two NP experts — Carolyn Clevenger, DNP, GNP-BC, FAANP, FGSA, FAAN, and Valerie Cotter, DrNP, CRNP, FAANP, FAAN — as they discuss strategies for the evaluation and treatment of AD. Enroll in Alzheimer’s Disease Updates for Nurse Practitioners, which is available on demand in the AANP CE Center. This activity is approved for 1.5 contact hours of CE credit, which includes 0.25 hours of pharmacology.