Daniel Kaufer: Targeting dementia

February 18, 2013 

Targeting dementia

Rob McLamb reminded us (“A prayer for Dean Smith,” Jan. 29) of Dean Smith’s indelible greatness both on and off the basketball court.

To reciprocate a rival’s homage, N.C. State coaches Jim Valvano and Kay Yow courageously fought but succumbed to cancer, leaving heroic legacies of awareness and action that have benefited many current cancer survivors and will help countless others to come.

Dementia is different. Surveys indicate that Alzheimer’s disease is more feared than cancer. Some cancers are curable; Alzheimer’s is not. There are few treatments for Alzheimer’s; none is a “game-changer.”

Alzheimer’s and other dementias usually don’t make people feel sick or look much different. The initial signs are easy to overlook or ignore. Degenerative brain disorders are among the toughest to diagnose and treat, but an even greater tragedy is failing to identify someone with a reversible cause, such as medication side effects. Over the last decade we have learned a simple lesson: We need to take action at the very first sign of trouble in order to have the best chance of turning things around. We can do it – with teamwork.

Daniel Kaufer, M.D.

Director, UNC Memory Disorders Program; co-director, Carolina Alzheimer’s Network

Chapel Hill

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