June marks Alzheimer's awareness month - and, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, it is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Dr. Calin Prodan, a neurologist at OU Health, said Alzheimer’s is a gradual disease – typically taking 2 to 20 years to progress.
"They are unable to talk, unable to walk, to get out of bed, so they are bed ridden, they cannot communicate," Prodan said of the later stages of the disease.
He said these patients require 100% care.
"The family members are essential in this, they work 24/7, 365 as the disease progresses,” Prodan said.
However, the disease typically starts with mild and vague symptoms like short term memory loss.
"Ask something more than once, misplace items at home and not find them, the caregiver or loved one will have to repeat information,” Prodan said.
There is no clear test that determines whether someone has Alzheimer’s.
According to the National Institute of Aging, “it’s important to note that Alzheimer’s disease can be definitively diagnosed only after death, by linking clinical measures with an examination of brain tissue in an autopsy.”
Prodan said the diagnosis requires several steps. Brain scans, blood work, memory tests, genetic history and monitoring the patient over several months.
And, although the likelihood of the disease increases exponentially after the age of 65, Prodan said he's seen a patient as young as 37.
Unfortunately, there is no way to cure the disease, however, there are medications to slow the progression.
Prodan said most doctors will monitor other medical conditions like sleep apnea, diabetes, and heart conditions to reduce the progression of the disease.
He recommends eating healthy, exercising, sleeping well and reducing stress-levels to decrease the chances of Alzheimer's.
Within the last week the U.S. Food, Drug and Administration approved a new controversial Alzheimer's drug called Adulhelm.
However, the FDA is requiring more testing of the drug to verify it is beneficial.