Ask The Pharmacist: Alzheimer’s is a guessing game

Suzy Cohen

There are a few words that terrify people as soon as their uttered by a physician. One of them is Alzheimer’s disease. When you hear that word, it’s like time stops.
A new report has considered the fear that we have when it comes to Alzheimer’s. Researchers evaluated 1,641 adults over the age of 50 and found that certain factors are known to increase our fear of developing Alzheimer’s, not the disease itself, but fear of getting it.
What are the three factors?

  1. Stress
  2. Genetics
  3. Self-determined faulty memory

Stewing about these factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going down the rabbit hole.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is a disease of the brain that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, and it gets worse over time.

I worry more about you getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, when you don’t have it! That’s the sad reality that happens every day. How do I know? People get smacked with labels constantly, and dropped into the sinking ship called the “medical system” that is frequently too quick to cut, poison and burn. There’s a difference between an ailing memory and Alzehimer’s disease. It’s common sense.

More:Ask The Pharmacist: My brother was a secret

According to preliminary results from a new study presented recently in London, diagnosing Alzheimer's is a guessing game. Doctors evaluated 4,000 Medicare patients who had mild cognitive impairment or dementia, and discovered that that many of them definitively do not have Alzheimer’s. Could you be one of those elderly people that has reduced memory function, but not actually Alzheimer’s disease? The treatment differs you know.

The average retail price for a month supply of a popular Alzheimer’s medication is 497 dollars, cold hard cash. One challenge we have is that well-meaning doctors don’t even think twice about prescribing Alzheimer’s medications. Adding to the challenge, pharmaceutical companies promote the glories of said-drug, adding to the indiscriminate prescribing problem which, IMHO is already haphazard.

So unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is a guessing game. We know patients tend to have sticky clumps of beta-amyloid in their brains. You can see these using PET-scans (often not reimbursed), or via painful spinal taps. So obviously most people do not endure these expensive or invasive procedures. They are told they have Alzehimer’s anyway, without a definitive diagnosis, often based on their poor memory recall or recent personality changes. Down the rabbit hole you go.
Some practitioners don’t think with enough compassion or they wouldn’t toss the name “Alzheimer’s” out so fast. I’ve been on the other side of this (not personally) but close enough to see how families get ruined; how lives and finances become catastrophic due to one word, perhaps mold, or Lyme, or Alzheimer’s, or “insert your disease here.”
What can be measured? Quinolinic acid (from the substrate L-tryptophan). It can be evaluated and while having high levels doesn’t equate to Alzheimer’s, it’s better than diagnosing on symptoms. We do know this compound is generated in excess in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit