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Alzheimer’s Disease--Treatable and With What

Alzheimer’s Disease--Treatable and With What

Teaser: 

A. Mark Clarfield

Several years ago at a public ceremony, a member of Europe's royalty forgot where she had put her reading glasses. Her husband may have thought that his regal spouse was showing signs of early Alzheimer's disease. However, Her Royal Highness clearly remembered that she wore glasses. In this distinction lies the difference between normal aging and dementia.

However, when the family doctor is concerned that a patient is suffering from one of the dementias--an insidious loss of higher cerebral functions including memory, judgment, affect, orientation, behaviour and language skills--further differentiation must be made. Most demented patients suffer from Alzheimer's disease or from brain damage resulting from multiple strokes. Unfortunately, in either of these situations there are few available treatments that can either reverse or limit the ongoing brain damage. For a fortunate few with a reversible cause for the dementia, early treatment can actually result in a significant improvement in the cognitive dysfunction.

Only a decade ago, the highest medical authorities held that anywhere from 20-40% of dementias were reversible. However, meta-analyses of the data indicated that reversibility occurred in no more than 11% of cases.1,2 Even more recent community-based studies indicate that, unfortunately, most dementias are incurable (although certainly not unmanageable); probably less than 1% fall into the reversible category.

The Classification and Treatment of Wandering

The Classification and Treatment of Wandering

Teaser: 

Bob Chaudhuri, MD
Resident in Psychiatry,
Department of Psychiatry,
University of Toronto.

In 1990, three million members of the US population were 85 years of age or older. By the year 2050, it is expected that the numbers of these very elderly people will reach 20 million. However, the percentage of older people in the US is less than that in most European nations. If one considers developing nations, 250 million Chinese will be over the age of 60 by the year 2020, and the number of people in developing nations over the age of 60 will be greater than that number in all the countries in Europe. Importantly, the number of people over the age of 80 continues to grow in proportion to the nation's population.1 Given these demographic numbers,2 the sequella of aging is relevant to psychiatry in general and geriatric psychiatry specifically. There is no specific Canadian data on this subpopulation.

Dementia is primarily a disease of later life, affecting approximately 5% of people over the age of 65, and in some populations studied, almost 50% of those over the age of 85. The essential features of dementia include the development of multiple cognitive deficits including, memory impairment, disturbance in executive functioning, and at least one of aphasia, apraxia or agnosia.

The Treatment of Agitation

The Treatment of Agitation

Teaser: 

Eileen P. Sloan, PhD, MD
Resident in Psychiatry,
Department of Psychiatry,
University of Toronto.

Introduction
Agitation is an aspect of dementia that can have serious emotional, medical and health-care system consequences. It results in decreased quality of life for both patient and caregiver and is often cited as the reason for the patient being admitted to a long-term care facility. Within the nursing home setting, agitation may often result in increased use of physical and/or chemical restraints, with concomitant problems such as physical injury and falls. Medical care of the agitated patient can be compromised and nursing staff is required to spend greater amounts of time caring for the agitated patient.

Definition and Prevalence
Allen (1999) points out that "agitation" is not a diagnosis but refers to a constellation of symptoms.1 Cohen-Mansfield and Billing (1986)2 define agitation as "inappropriate verbal, vocal or motor activity unexplained by apparent needs or confusion." These authors divide the symptoms of agitation into three: aggressive behaviours (hitting, kicking, verbal aggression, spitting); inappropriate physically non-aggressive behaviours (pacing, repetitious mannerisms, robing and disrobing); and inappropriate verbal agitated behaviours (screaming, complaining, constant demands for attention).

The Missing Link: Can the Treatment of Hypertension Prevent Dementia

The Missing Link: Can the Treatment of Hypertension Prevent Dementia

Teaser: 

Chris MacKnight, MD, MSc, FRCPC
Division of Geriatric Medicine,
Dalhousie University,
Halifax, NS.

Dementia and hypertension are two of the most common conditions affecting older adults. A number of recent studies suggest that dementia is one of the long-term complications of hypertension. Studies also suggest that the treatment of hypertension may prevent dementia. This brief review will focus on the relationship between hypertension and dementia in older adults.

Epidemiology of Dementia
Eight percent of Canadians who are over the age of 65 suffer from dementia, with Alzheimer's disease being the most common cause (approximately 60% of cases).1 Dementia is age-related, with the prevalence increasing from 2.4% of those from 65-74 years of age, to 34.5% of those 85 and older. Sixty thousand new cases occur each year in Canada.2 The cost of providing care to these patients is substantial, at 3.9 billion dollars/year, in 1991 dollars.3 Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia in Canada, accounting for 20% of cases. When discussing vascular dementia, it is important to recognize that the classic pattern of multiple infarcts is found only in approximately 1/3 of the cases. The other cases consist of patients who have changes in their white matter (likely on the basis of small vessel ischemia) with or without lacunar infarcts, or, rarely, single strategic strokes.

Radiation for the Treatment of Heart Disease

Radiation for the Treatment of Heart Disease

Teaser: 

Two studies, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, have suggested a role for radiation therapy in the treatment of restenosis. Every year, thousands of patients undergo balloon angioplasty to open clogged arteries. In 60% of these cases, physicians also insert a stent to keep the artery propped open. Unfortunately, in 35% of cases, restenosis occurs and the patient has to undergo another angioplasty or a bypass operation. Both studies investigated the use of placing radioactive materials into the arteries for a short period of time, and then removing them. Where the studies differ is in the type of radiation that is used. In the first study, the researchers used beta radiation, considered safer because it does not penetrate past the body of the patient. In the second study, gamma radiation was used, and health-care workers had to be shielded.

In the study of beta radiation, 181 patients were treated who had undergone angioplasty for the first time. Once the blockage had been cleared, a radioactive coil was inserted into the artery and was subsequently removed, after a few minutes. Patients were given heart scans six months later and it was found that restenosis had occurred in only 29% of patients who had received the lowest dose of radiation, and in 15% of those who had received a dose that was two times as high.

In the second study, patients had already undergone a previous angioplasty procedure. In 131 patients, after undergoing a new angioplasty, a tiny ribbon containing gamma radiation was inserted and was removed after 20 minutes. In another 121 patients, the procedure was replicated with an identical looking ribbon that contained no radiation. At 6 months post-procedure, 28% of the patients in the radiation treatment group had restenosis, as compared to 44% in the comparison group. Unfortunately, several months after the procedure, 5% of radiation patients developed dangerous blood clots, as compared to only 1% in the control group.

The technique would mean that many patients could be spared bypass surgery or repeated angioplasties, but is obviously associated with several caveats. Further studies with larger numbers of patients are required before any definitive conclusions can be made regarding the effectiveness of the technique. In addition, the possible development of cancers, as a side effect of the radiation treatment in these patients, is of major concern.

Sources

  1. Verin, V et al. Endoluminal Beta-Radiation Therapy for the Prevention of Coronary Restenosis after Balloon Angioplasty. NEJM 2001;344:243.
  2. Leon, MB et al. Localized Intracoronary Gamma-Radiation Therapy to Inhibit the Recurrence of Restenosis after Stenting. NEJM 2001;344:250.

Elderly Patients Rely on Dialysis for Treatment of Renal Failure

Elderly Patients Rely on Dialysis for Treatment of Renal Failure

Teaser: 

Dimitrios G. Oreopoulos
Nada Dimkovic

Toronto Western Hospital,
University Health Network

Introduction
The elderly (>65 years) are the fastest growing group of patients who require dialysis. In 1988, of the more than four thousand new dialysis patients, one thousand nine hundred and fifty eight were 65 years or older, giving an approximate rate of 515 new patients per million members of the population.

Once an elderly patient has developed end-stage renal disease (ESRD), his/her therapeutic options become limited to the various modes of dialysis that are available and, to a lesser degree, to renal transplantation.

Here we should mention a word of caution with regards to using serum creatinine as a guide for the point at which to begin dialysis. Because of the decrease in muscle mass that is associated with age, serum creatinine is disproportionately low for the degree of renal failure. Rather than relying on serum creatinine, either a creatinine clearance, or the Cockroft-Gault formula should be used to assess the severity of renal failure.

Although renal transplantation may be successful in the elderly person with ESRD, and they may have renal graft and patient survival rates comparable to those of younger recipients, only a small percentage (0.5-3%) of these patients are undergoing transplant procedures. The main reason for this is the shortage of donor kidneys.

Steering Through Murky Ethical Waters

Steering Through Murky Ethical Waters

Teaser: 


Is it Ethical to Use Foetal Tissue for the Treatment of PD?

David Kaplan, MSc(HA)
Joint Centre for Bioethics
Faculty of Medicine,
University of Toronto

Surgical transplantation of foetal brain cells has been reported to substantially improve the symptoms associated with Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's disease, which is characterized by tremors, muscular rigidity, and akinesia, is believed to result from the deterioration of the brain's dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra (the neural centre for the initiation and control of movement). This disease afflicts 70,000 Canadians, and unfortunately, approximately ten percent of these patients are refractory to conventional medical therapy. Clearly, new methods to control the disease would be of substantial benefit to these patients. In 1995, the Canadian government introduced legislation that would have made it difficult, if not illegal, to conduct research into foetal tissue transplant. Although this Bill died on the parliamentary order desk, there remains the prospect of reintroducing such legislation. The purpose of this article is to examine the murky ethical waters that surround the topic of research and therapy involving foetal tissue. However, I will not attempt to validate the merits of this therapy in this brief analysis.

Procurement
Obviously, a source of foetal tissue is required, in order to perform foetal tissue transplantation surgery. There are three potential sources for this tissue.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): The Diagnosis and Treatment of this Debilitating Disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): The Diagnosis and Treatment of this Debilitating Disease

Teaser: 

In 1869, french neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot first described a rapidly progressive, fatal neuromuscular disease. This disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou-Gehrig's disease, is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the patient's motor neurons; typically the patient is paralyzed or deceased within 2 to 5 years of the initial diagnosis. Currently, approximately 3000 Canadians suffer from this tragic disease.

Andrew Eisen MD, FRCPC
Professor and Head, Division of
Neurology, University of British Columbia,
Head of the Neuromuscular Diseases Unit,
Vancouver General Hospital

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a prototypic neurodegeneration of the aging nervous system. It has a worldwide incidence of about 2 per 100,000 members of the population and a prevalence of 4&endash;7 per 100,000. As is true of both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, the incidence of ALS is increasing proportional to the increasing longevity of the population. Information regarding the specific incidence of ALS in the elderly (aged 75 years and older) is sparse. The apparent decrease in incidence of this disease in patients older than 70 years reflects mortality from competing diseases in later life.

The etiopathogenesis of ALS is complex and multi-factorial.

Serendipity and the Origin of the Lens Implant in Cataract Treatment

Serendipity and the Origin of the Lens Implant in Cataract Treatment

Teaser: 

In 1942, a young British flight surgeon, Ridley, made an outstanding discovery that was to shape the future of cataract treatment. Cataracts result from the clouding of the lens of the eye, which leads to blurred vision. As with the lens of a camera, the lens of the eye functions by focussing light rays onto the retina at the back of the eye, which then transmits this visual information to the brain. For the light to pass through and reach the retina, the lens must remain clear. Cataracts result when the natural lens of the eye becomes cloudy; they are not the product of a growth or the accumulation of film over the eye.

While examining injured fighter pilots, Ridley noted that when plastic slivers from the shattered windshield of an airplane cockpit entered the eye, some pilots had a severe reaction, whereas other pilots had no reaction at all. At the time, the accepted belief was that any foreign material entering the eye would cause a severe reaction until it was removed. Ridley wanted to understand why some pilots showed no reaction to the presence of a piece of plastic in their eye. Further investigation led him to realize that it was only the pilots of Spitfires who did not suffer any complications, whereas pilots flying all other British fighter planes--including captured German pilots flying Messerschmitts--were all severely affected. The young surgeon then discovered that Spitfire plastic came from a different company, ICI, that produced a type of plastic material, polymethyl methacrylate, which could be tolerated by the human eye.

When the war ended in 1945, Ridley turned his attention to cataract surgery. Treatment at the time involved removing the diseased cataract lens and giving the patient thick, heavy glasses that limited their peripheral vision and magnified objects by 30 %. Ridley decided that a better technique for cataract treatment would be to replace the human lens with a lens made of the plastic that he had discovered during the war. On 19 November 1949, at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, he performed the first lens implant on a cataract patient.

Today the treatment of cataracts still relies solely on surgical techniques; there is no medication or diet that can stop a cataract once it has begun to form. A cataract may develop rapidly over a period of a few months or it may grow very slowly over several years. Typically, this process only occurs in a single eye, although eventually, often after months or years, a cataract may develop in the second eye. Most cataracts are related to aging, although they may also be congenital, the result of a medical problem such as diabetes or of a trauma to the eye.

A cataract rarely causes damage if it is left in the eye, except in cases in which there is blurred vision. There are very rare cases, however, of cataracts, when left in the eye long past the stage of blindness, causing inflammation and glaucoma. With the current methods of removal, surgery can be performed successfully at any stage of cataract development.

The only treatment for a cataract is the removal of the cloudy lens. There are various methods of surgically removing a cataract, and the specialist must decide which method is most suitable for each individual patient. For a description of the three main surgical procedures that are available for cataract extraction, and a list of the advantages and disadvantages of these techniques, please see the full article by Dr. Marvin Kwitko on our web site at www.geriatricsandaging.ca.

Dr. Marvin Kwitko performed his first lens implant operation at Bellechasse Hospital in Montreal in 1967. In 1968 he joined St. Mary's Hospital, and under the former chief, Dr. Gaston Duclos, continued this work there. Dr. Kwitko has trained more than 350 surgeons from Canada, the U.S. and abroad. He is currently the Chief of Opthalmology at St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal and an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at McGill University.

Therapeutic Approaches for Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Therapeutic Approaches for Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Teaser: 


Reviewing the Benefits and Limitations of Psychotropics and Cholinesterase Inhibitors

Wafa Harrouk, PharmD

The following are brief summaries of salient points from presentations in the session on Therapeutic Approaches for the Treatment of Alzheimer's disease, Sunday July 9th, 2000.

Clinical Status of Therapy for Behavioral Disturbances
Dr. Jeffrey L. Cummings, MD, from the Alzheimer's Disease Center, University of California, highlighted some of the most salient therapeutic interventions that are currently available for treatment of behavioural disturbances associated with AD. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is associated with a variety of neuro-psychiatric disturbances, including delusions, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, apathy, irritability, disinhibition, and agitation. Patients may also suffer from aberrant motor behaviours such as rummaging, pacing and wandering. These behavioural disturbances are stressful to the patient as well as to their caregivers. Appropriate treatment of these disturbances would improve the patients' quality of life, alleviate their caregiver's stress, and delay their placement in a nursing home. Relatively few double blind, placebo control trials of psychotrophic medications have been conducted on patients with AD.