Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Should Know

Alzheimer’s Disease affects the brain and causes trouble with memory, thinking and eventually behavior. Dr. Maxim D. Hammer, Chief of Neurology at St. Clair Health, outlines what you need to know about Alzheimer’s, including treatment options, and how to keep your brain healthy.

“Many of the questions we get highlight an awareness gap around Alzheimer’s disease and how it differs from dementia,” says Dr. Hammer. “While everyone loses some cognitive function, including memory, as they age, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. When the loss of cognitive function impairs daily life, the disease has progressed to dementia.”

It’s not always easy for people to discern normal aging from the abnormalities caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Bringing health concerns to your primary care physician is always a good idea. They’ll be able to rule out other possibilities and if needed, refer you to a neurologist.

The earlier the disease is detected, the more treatment options your care team has. Compounding this is that, when left unchecked, Alzheimer’s worsens over time. If you’re noticing that someone is having a hard time recalling familiar things like how to navigate home, or how to work a household appliance, then it may be time to speak with a doctor.

“When someone comes in for the first time, we work very hard to get them rapid access to clinical care,” says Dr. Hammer.

People caring for someone with Alzheimer’s are undoubtedly going to have questions about medications, routines, support groups, etc. The expert team at St. Clair Health is built for that. Dr. Hammer takes the time with patients and caregivers to answer questions during visits, and via email—usually within a few days. That personal access, for some people, makes all the difference in the world.

“Our team delivers world class care and at the same time we feel like a neighbor, like part of the community. One way we do that is helping you find answers without swimming through a sea of Internet searches,” explains Dr. Hammer.

People who are searching for help are likely to find new treatment options that are just starting to hit the market. Neurology teams around the country are on the cusp of having new pharmaceuticals added to their repertoire. As more data comes in on these new drugs, more and more insurance providers will recognize their impact. That will eventually drive the cost down.

Until those treatments are widely available, the other thing that everyone should be aware of is that a pair of running shoes is a great way to keep aging brains sharp. Research shows that 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week has a strong connection to brain health, in addition to helping prevent heart disease.

It’s also a good idea to keep the brain stimulated. Puzzles, crosswords, and numbers games, like sudoku, are all great for maintaining a healthy brain. It’s also a good practice to keep it nourished with leafy greens, fresh berries, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon.

The other factor that everybody should be aware of is that healthy sleep habits are crucial to keeping the brain sharp. Fixing any underlying sleep issues and getting quality sleep every night has a strong correlation to maintaining your brain health. That runs the gamut from cleaning up your sleep routine to getting fitted for a CPAP device. You can set yourself up for a successful night of sleep by staying off screens about an hour before bed, avoiding alcohol at night, and switching to decaffeinated beverages after noon.

Clearly, the brain is complicated and connected. Your sleep, your diet, your family history, your activity levels are all factors that influence the actual physiological changes that occur in the brain as we age. This is why everyone should be aware that getting treatment in a connected healthcare system like ours gives you the best chance to attack the disease holistically. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there’s also no better way to treat it than to surround yourself with expert care from people who care.

Dr. Maxim Hammer, M.D., MBA

Dr. Hammer earned his medical degree at Albany Medical College, Albany, N.Y., and completed his neurology residency at Cleveland Clinic, where he was elected chief resident. He also completed a vascular neurology fellowship at UPMC. Dr. Hammer was named a Top Doctor in Neurology by Pittsburgh Magazine in 2021. Before joining St. Clair, he held numerous titles, including Vice Chairman, Clinical Affairs, Department of Neurology; Clinical Director of Neurology; and Director of Stroke Services at UPMC Mercy Hospital. Board-certified in both neurology and vascular neurology, he also currently serves as an associate professor, Department of Neurology, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Hammer practices with St. Clair Medical Group. To contact Dr. Hammer, please call 412.942.6300.