FAQs Alzheimer's disease & Dementia

FAQs

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We hear a lot about Alzheimer's Disease, but can you generally define dementia?

“Dementia is characterized by the loss of or decline in memory and other cognitive abilities. It is caused by various diseases and conditions that result in damaged brain cells. To be classified as dementia, the following criteria must be met:”

It must include decline in memory and in at least one of the following cognitive abilities:

1. Ability to generate coherent speech or understand spoken or written language;
2. Ability to recognize or identify objects, assuming intact sensory function;
3. Ability to execute motor activities, assuming intact motor abilities, sensory function and comprehension of the required task; and
4. Ability to think abstractly, make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks.

The decline in cognitive abilities must be severe enough to affect daily life activities.

Different types of dementia have been associated with distinct symptom patterns and distinguishing microscopic brain abnormalities. Increasing evidence from long-term epidemiological observation and autopsy studies suggests that many people have brain abnormalities associated with more than one type of dementia. The symptoms of different types of dementia also overlap and can be further complicated by coexisting medical conditions.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease can affect different people in different ways, but the most common symptom pattern begins with gradually worsening difficulty in remembering new information. This is because disruption of brain cells usually begins in regions involved in forming new memories. As damage spreads, individuals experience other difficulties.

The following are warning signs of Alzheimer's:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Involve the rest of the family as there is strength in numbers. Your siblings might need to spend time with your parent if they haven't seen her/him in awhile.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Describe the Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease

Although the cause or causes of Alzheimer's disease are not yet known, most experts agree that Alzheimer's, like other common chronic conditions, probably develops as a result of multiple factors rather than a single cause. Lifestyle play a role. Genetics definitely can play a role. Brain scans are often recommended to make a diagnosis.

The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is advancing age, but Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging.

Most Americans with Alzheimer's disease are aged 65 or older, although individuals younger than age 65 can also develop the disease.

When Alzheimer's or another dementia is recognized in a person under age 65, these conditions are referred to as "younger-onset" or "early-onset" Alzheimer's or "younger-onset" or "early-onset" dementia.

A small percentage of Alzheimer's disease cases, probably less than 1 percent, are caused by rare genetic variations found in a small number of families worldwide. These variations involve chromosome 21 on the gene for the amyloid precursor protein chromosome 14. In inherited forms of Alzheimer's, the disease tends to develop before age 65, sometimes in individuals as young as 30.

Lifestyle matters

A growing body of evidence suggests that the health of the brain - one of the body's most highly vascular organs - is closely linked to the overall health of the heart and blood vessels. Some data indicate that management of cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity may help avoid or delay cognitive decline.(1-9) Many of these risk factors are modifiable - that is, they can be changed to decrease the likelihood of developing both cardiovascular disease and the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. More limited data suggest that a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables may support brain health, as may a robust social network and a lifetime of intellectual curiosity and mental stimulation. For more information: alz.org