What Is Dementia?
Dementia describes a collection of symptoms related to memory loss and the impairment of mental and cognitive functions. It indicates an underlying disease or condition that impacts the brain's health. Depending on the cause, dementia symptoms may be slowed or even reversed.
What Is the Difference Between Alzheimer's And Dementia?
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a degenerative disorder that leads to the death of brain cells. As the disease progresses, it can lead to life-threatening effects on the brain's ability to function. Malnutrition, dehydration, and problems with swallowing and inhaling food or liquid into the lungs can also occur.
What Causes Dementia?
In addition to Alzheimer's disease, other causes of dementia include:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: A degenerative disease affecting nerves cells in the brain
- Lewy body dementia: Abnormal protein deposits in the brain impact mood and thinking
- Frontotemporal dementia: A disorder that affects behavior and language skills
- Huntington's disease: An inherited condition characterized by involuntary movements
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: A brain and memory disorder caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency
- Mixed dementia: Indicates symptoms of more than one type of dementia
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus: Fluid buildup in the brain causes issues with thinking skills
- Parkinson's disease: A progressive nervous system disorder that affects body movement
- Posterior cortical atrophy: A degenerative condition that results in eyesight problems
- Vascular dementia: Impaired blood flow to the brain results in memory and reasoning issues
Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Memory loss is usually the first indicator of Alzheimer's disease. We all forget things from time to time, but with Alzheimer's, this disruption is severe enough to affect the ability to work or care for oneself.
Other Alzheimer's symptoms may include:
- Inability to complete everyday tasks
- Confusion about dates and places
- Difficulty with balance and vision
- Loss of vocabulary and conversational ability
- Social withdrawal and mood changes
- Impaired judgment
Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease
The most frequently identified risk factors for Alzheimer's disease are:
- Age: the disease is more common in people over 60
- Family history: your risk is greater if immediate family members have had it
- Genetics: the risk increases for those carrying specific genes or gene abnormalities, such as Down syndrome
- Health: alcohol and tobacco products increase your risk
Causes of Alzheimer's Disease
The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is currently unknown, but some of the most promising research is investigating what causes naturally occurring beta-amyloid and tau proteins to accumulate and disrupt communication in parts of the brain associated with memory.
Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed by eliminating other potential explanations for the patient’s dementia symptoms. Tests and procedures used may include:
- Medical history review
- Physical exam
- Lab work for blood and urine samples
- Neurological exams
- Brain imaging
- Cognitive status tests
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests
- Genetic testing
Treating Alzheimer's Disease
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Treatment focuses on maintaining mental capacity, slowing progression and treating related behavioral issues. Treatment involves finding the right combination of medications, which varies from person to person.
Complications of Alzheimer's
The main complications associated with Alzheimer's disease are physical impairment, impaired judgment and the loss of cognitive and memory skills. These can lead to several health problems, including:
- Aspiration (inhaling food or liquid into the lungs)
- Bone breaks and fractures from falls
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Tooth decay and other dental issues
The loss of cognitive ability can also affect the ability to communicate about symptoms, pain or side effects of medication. These complications make it difficult to follow a treatment plan, leading to additional health issues and accelerating the disease.