Geriatric Center provides Alzheimer’s care

As people live longer, there is a higher chance of them getting Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are ways to help stave it off.
One of the top 10 causes of death in Ector County and around the nation and world is complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Liliana Andrade, associate professor and Geriatric Fellowship program director at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine at the Permian Basin, said aerobic exercise, not smoking, having good eating habits and controlling high blood pressure and diabetes help.
She noted that exercising every day produces endorphins and increases the blood supply to every part of the body, including the brain.
However, Andrade said there are genetic factors that cannot be controlled.
“There are different risk factors for dementia and there are different types of dementia. That’s important to know. The most common is Alzheimer’s disease and it accounts for 60 to 70 percent of all of the dementias. After that, is vascular dementia and other type of dementias. Temporal, Parkinson’s.
There are also vascular risks. For example, if someone has uncontrolled hypertension, that decreases the blood supply to the brain and can damage the nerves, Andrade said. High cholesterol and diabetes are also risk factors, she said.
Andrade said most of the patients who come to the Texas Tech Physicians Geriatric Clinic at the Medical Center Hospital Center for Health and Wellness are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. As people age, they have more diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease – so dementia is frequent.
“The older you get, the higher chances of getting that disease, so some people sometimes overlook it," she said. They don’t pay attention too much to it.”
When patients first visit, the geriatricians at the center evaluate the cognitive status of the patient and how well they are functioning. “We also focus on mood because sometimes mood disorders can disguise the diagnosis of dementia. But it’s very frequent like 1 in 3 patients over 65 have some kind of cognitive impairment,” Andrade said. But it can also occur sooner.
The first sign is decreasing memory. A patient may tend to misplace things, forget things or is unable to remember what they have learned recently, forgets to pay bills, take their medication, or take too much medication, Andrade said.
“As the dementia progresses in time, you can have behavioral problems like agitation, mood swings, depression, wandering,” Andrade said. Paranoid or delusional behavior can also be part of it.
When the disease advances, which can take decades, the patient may not be able to talk anymore, have problems walking, and lose control of their bowels and bladder, Andrade said.
“Usually the disease starts even before you start having symptoms,” she added. “You can have five, 10 years before you start having memory loss.”
Unfortunately, Andrade said, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The only drugs available delay the progression of the disease, she said.
Andrade said Lettie England is a social worker who acts as a liaison between the clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association. She also has presented workshops the past three years on topics such as the basics of dementia, available treatment, how to handle behavioral problems with patients, legal aspects and community resources.
“What we do here is provide education to the caregivers because they’re the ones who come to us and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. Can you help us?” England said.
“What we all know is … Alzheimer’s is going to be a tsunami like none we’ve ever seen before,” England added. “Cancer is terrible, but at least you have some approach to treatment. … With Alzheimer’s, once the diagnosis comes in, you know where it’s going to end. What you don’t know is how long. Cancer you have some idea of the length depending on where and what kind.”
The Geriatric Center may be reached at 432-335-2222.