Alzheimer’s & Dementia
While many associate Alzheimer’s disease with symptoms of dementia, it is not the only cause of these types of cognitive changes. It is important that you see a medical professional at the onset of symptoms of dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a loss of intellectual function (thinking, remembering, and reasoning) so severe that it interferes with an individual’s daily functioning and eventually results in death.
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. AD is the fourth leading cause of death in adults, after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Men and women are affected almost equally.
The disease was first described by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Since then, researchers have developed a deeper understanding of the changes in the brain (plaques and tangles) and behavioral changes that characterize the disease. Medical professionals do their best to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s disease using assessment tools such as questionnaires and imaging, however, Alzheimer’s disease cannot be definitively diagnosed until an autopsy is performed.
Some Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Memory loss that affects job/home skills
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Disorientation to time and place
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Difficulty with learning new tasks
- Mood changes
- Behavioral changes
- Loss of initiative
Recently the FDA approved aducanumab (Aduhelm®) for the treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild Alzheimer’s disease. Whether this medicine is appropriate for you or your family member depends on many individual factors, and physicians with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease are available for consultation. Learn more.
Other Types of Dementia
Multi-Infarct Dementia/Vascular Dementia
Decrease in mental capacity caused by mini-strokes in the brain. These strokes are due to small blood clots that form in the blood vessels in the brain and lead to destruction of that brain tissue. The symptoms may seem to occur all of a sudden, but it could be that it took many small strokes for the symptoms to appear. The effects could be very specific to a certain function, or it may be a general dementia that results. This type of dementia is not reversible or curable, but detection of vascular risk factors, can help to modify the progression of dementia.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system. It is caused by deterioration of specific brain cells for unknown reasons. The cells that are affected are those that control muscle control, this is why it is often characterized by tremors, stiffness in limbs and joints, speech difficulties, and difficulty initiating physical movement. Late in the course of the disease some patients develop dementia and eventually Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, some Alzheimer patients develop symptoms of Parkinson’s. The symptoms of Parkinson’s can be treated to an extent, but they cannot be reversed or cured.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited, degenerative brain disease that causes both physical and mental disabilities and usually begins in mid-life. The symptoms vary from case to case, and may include involuntary movement of limbs and facial muscles, depression, personality changes, memory problems, slurred speech and impaired judgment. Today a genetic test is available to confirm a diagnosis of Huntington’s and to identify carriers of the Huntington gene. There is no treatment to stop the progression of Huntington’s, but the movement disturbances and psychiatric symptoms can be treated with medication.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare, fatal brain disorder that causes rapid, progressive dementia and other neuromuscular disturbances. It is caused by a transmissible agent. The disease can be inherited, but the majority of cases are not. Early symptoms include failing memory, changes in behavior, and lack of coordination. As the disease advances, usually very rapidly, mental deterioration becomes pronounced, involuntary movements (especially muscle jerks) appear, and the patient experiences severe difficulty with sight, muscular energy, and coordination.
Pick’s disease is a rare brain disorder, characterized by shrinkage of the tissues of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain and by the presence of abnormal bodies (Pick’s bodies) in the nerve cells of the affected areas of the brain. Pick’s disease usually begins between the ages of 40 and 60. The symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, with a loss of language abilities, skilled movement, and the ability to recognize objects or people. Initial diagnosis is based on family history (Pick’s disease may be inherited), symptoms, tests, and ruling out other causes of dementia.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is an irreversible form of dementia that has symptoms similar to Alzheimer symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, and difficulty communicating. Hallucinations and paranoia also may become apparent in the earlier stages of the disease and often last throughout the disease process. At this time, there is no treatment available for Lewy body dementia.
Frontal Lobe Dementia is a rare brain disorder that like Alzheimer’s disease is usually difficult to diagnose. Disturbances in personality, behavior and orientation may precede and initially be more severe than memory defects.