Newswise — Affecting 5.5 million Americans, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease can take a devastating toll on those with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Caregivers, two thirds of whom are women, undergo emotional, financial and physical stress, all while knowing that there is no current cure for the disease.
Fred A. Kobylarz, MD, associate professor of family medicine and community health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is an expert in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and offers caregivers and family members information on diagnoses and symptoms, as well how to best improve the quality of life for their family member.
Dr. Kobylarz is a practicing geriatrician who helps patients and families through difficult medical decisions. At the national level, while completing a Health and Aging Policy Fellowship at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, he provided geriatric expertise for The National Alzheimer’s Plan. At the state level, Dr. Kobylarz served on the New Jersey Alzheimer’s Disease Study Commission and helped create the state plan. “Alzheimer’s has become pervasive in the United State and it affects people in all walks of life. It is a national problem that needs action and attention,” he shares.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, which is defined as a range of symptoms associated with cognitive impairments that impact daily function. While affecting 32% of people 85 years old or older, dementia is not part of the normal aging process.
“Alzheimer’s first presents itself with memory loss, later followed by neurological changes that can include changes in language, personality, driving issues and decreased executive function,” says Dr. Kobylarz. While age is the greatest known risk factor, family history and genetics also increase the likelihood of developing the disease. It is important to know your family history and communicate it to your physician.
Many people with Alzheimer’s will first show symptoms as memory loss that may or may not affect a person’s ability to function. “It can be tricky because some memory loss can also be a sign of the normal aging process.” Families should look out for memory impairment and trouble managing aspects of their daily lives like paying bills or taking their medication,” explains Dr. Kobylarz.
Symptoms can vary from person to person and often progress slowly. Dr. Kobylarz says the first thing to do when you notice these changes in a loved one is to consult your physician.
While a diagnosis can seem ominous because there is currently no cure, medications and lifestyle choices can slow down disease progression for Alzheimer’s. The physician, patient and family should work together to figure out a plan that works best for them with the goal of improving and maintaining cognitive function.
As caregivers and family members focus on the best way to manage the disease, researchers are working on drug development and improving diagnoses and treatments. Researchers have identified biomarkers, like amyloid and tau proteins that predict disease occurrence or the state of a disease, for dementia which will change how it is diagnosed in the future.
“The future for people with Alzheimer’s is promising,” says Dr. Kobylarz. “For now, I do my best to educate patients and their caregivers on steps to improve overall wellbeing and disease progression. A good caretaker who understands the disease, its symptoms and progression is crucial to the overall wellbeing of people with Alzheimer’s.”
Click here to watch a video with more information about symptoms, treatments and information about Alzheimer’s from Dr. Kobylarz.
About Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
As one of the nation’s leading comprehensive medical schools, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education, research, health care delivery, and the promotion of community health. Part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School encompasses 20 basic science and clinical departments, and hosts centers and institutes including The Cardiovascular Institute, the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, and the Women’s Health Institute. The medical school has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as among the top 100 medical schools in the nation for research and primary care.
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, an RWJBarnabas Health facility and the medical school’s principal affiliate, comprise one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers. Clinical services are provided by more than 500 faculty physicians in 200+ specialties and subspecialties as part of Rutgers Health, the clinical arm of Rutgers University. Rutgers Health is the most comprehensive academic health care provider in New Jersey, offering a breadth of accessible clinical care throughout the state supported by the latest in medical research and education.
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School maintains educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels on its campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway and provides continuing education courses for health care professionals and community education programs. With more than 5,500 alumni since the start of its first class in 1996, the medical school has expanded its comprehensive programming and educational opportunities and is at the forefront of innovative curriculum development and a visionary admissions program. To learn more about Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, visit rwjms.rutgers.edu.