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Alzheimers & Dementia

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Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes of Dementia. About 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and nearly 50 percent of all people over the age of 85.

As of yet, there is no cure or reversible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary and may include loss of memory, impaired thinking, becoming confused, misplacing things, personality changes, and problems with communication and common language. However, these symptoms may also be signs of other neurological conditions, which are not degenerative and may be treatable.

 

Dementia

Dementia is a neurological disorder most commonly found in elderly people. Dementia consists of the loss of cognitive abilities in an individual who was previously unimpaired and can extend far beyond what cognitive degeneration would occur in a healthily aging person. Dementia directly affects an individual’s ability to think and reason, as well as their memory.

Dementia is a brain condition that occurs when a person’s memory and other brain functions break down. Cognition is the term that includes short and long term memory and other thinking brain functions such as drawing, decision making, calculation, language, and social skills.

A common way to explain dementia is the “Book Case” analogy. Over our lifetime we acquire knowledge and skills that are represented as books on our bookshelf. Examples include tying shoelaces, people’s names, places we’ve visited, and recent meals. Books are added from the ground up, so that our childhood memories are on the bottom, mid-life is in the middle and senior life is on top. In persons with dementia, their bookshelf becomes wobbly. The top shelf books are more prone to fall off first. There are mild changes at first, such as forgetting the last meal we ate or who just came to visit. With time, the bookshelf is more shaken and more skills and books fall off.

Family members or friends may find a person with dementia getting lost while driving, making errors paying bills, or having difficulty with names. In advanced cases, a person with dementia may only recall skills or specific facts from many years prior [lower on the bookcase]. Due to these changes, people with dementia are not safe to live alone.

Not all changes in cognition are due to dementia and may have a different cause. Certain causes of dementia are reversible and easily treated. Other forms such as Alzheimer’s disease are generally slowly progressive and will continue to shake the bookshelf. Dementia can be common with aging, but may be preventable.

Currently, there is a great deal of interest and research going into dementia prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Ask your neurologist about diagnosis and treatment options if you have concerns about your memory, thinking, and cognition.

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