Regular medical care can ease Alzheimer's patient's depression, sleeplessness TO YOUR HEALTH

ON CALL

March 02, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: My 72-year-old father has Alzheimer's disease. He is living with my wife and me and his care has been difficult for us. My wife has tried to convince me that he should be followed regularly by a doctor who has experience in dealing with Alzheimer's patients.

Since there is no cure or way to slow the progression of this disease, what good would it do to have the additional costs of trips to a doctor?

A: While there is no effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease, those with this disorder often suffer from a number of related problems that are potentially treatable.

* About 15 percent of patients with Alzheimer's disease are significantly depressed and may benefit from anti-depressive medications.

* Nearly half the people with this disease have delusions that can be controlled with drugs such as Haldol.

* Like others with Alzheimer's, your father may have difficulty sleeping that keeps him and your family awake at night. Medications for insomnia may be quite helpful. Chloral hydrate is a good choice.

* Because patients with Alzheimer's are quite sensitive to the drugs used to treat depression, delusions and insomnia, they must be followed closely to detect the side effects of possible overdoses.

* Your father may display fear and unmanageable behavior because of a medical problem or pain which he is unable to describe.

Finally, discussions with a knowledgeable physician will help you to get answers to difficult issues in dealing with your father. You may also get explanations for some of your father's behaviors that you are now unable to understand. And physicians can suggest support groups for you and your wife.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and associate dean for faculty affairs at the school.

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