DURHAM, N.C. — Some call them senior moments -- the times when you forget a familiar name or keep misplacing things. Memory loss can be a normal sign of aging or an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.
Last year, doctors told John Hamilton he had early signs of Alzheimer's disease or what is known as MCI, mild cognitive impairment.
"In the last month or two, he's had episodes where he can't fall asleep or he'll wake up and he's really moving a lot," Hamilton's wife, Vickie, said.
Vickie Hamilton is usually around to fill the gaps in her husband's memory. For a quick test at Duke's Memory Clinic, Hamilton was on his own.
A longer, formal neuropsychological test is used to diagnose MCI. If depression, stroke or vascular problems are not an issue, then tests may point to Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Donald Schmechel uses a mental and physical drill to see if Hamilton's condition has progressed.
"At the moment, you're doing extremely well. You're very stable and you do have some memory problems," Schmechel said to Hamilton during the exam.
Hamilton is fortunate to have been diagnosed early. There are new treatments available to help stabilize, or at least slow down, its debilitating effects.
New research shows high doses of vitamins E and C supplements taken together may protect the brain. For moderate to severe cases, new drugs like Namenda have been shown to be effective.
Doctors said what is good for the heart is also good for the brain -- a healthy low-fat diet, regular exercise and normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
"Alzheimer's, by the book and still in our day and age, is a progressive illness. It can vary from five to seven years, but it will eventually produce a total disruption of thinking and memory and physically debilitate the person. It's a fatal illness," Schmechel said.
A fatal illness, with which the Hamiltons are still learning to cope.
"How much longer have I got, you know? You start thinking about all those things," Hamilton said.
Families and physicians can learn more about the disease at the 18th Annual Alzheimer's Disease Research Center Conference. It takes place Thursday and Friday at the Durham Marriott.
Information about the conference is available
or by calling (919) 660-7510 or (800) 646-2028.