It’s not uncommon to hear people who experience a slight lapse in memory and who haven’t been affected by Alzheimer’s disease joke that they think they have Alzheimer’s disease. But losing one’s memory is never a joke. How do you know if memory loss is due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and what are the differences?
What is dementia?
Dementia is the main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is not a disease in itself, as Alzheimer’s is. Dementia is a non-specific set of symptoms caused by damage to the brain from stroke or head trauma, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other diseases. Sometimes it is reversible, as in the case of thyroid problems and nutritional deficiencies. Dementia can occur in adults of any age, but it is most common in the elderly.
Dementia has been referred to as senility, based on the incorrect belief that losing one’s memory is part of the natural process of aging. As we age our brains become less agile. It’s not unusual to forget why you’ve gone into a room or where you’ve put your car keys, but dementia is more serious and is not a normal part of aging.
Dementia affects memory (both short-term and long-term), communication skills, the ability to read, problem solve, pay attention and reason. As dementia progresses, everyday tasks become increasingly difficult. Depending on which area of the brain is affected, communication can break down, and the person affected by memory loss can find him or herself on an emotional rollercoaster.
Sometimes a person with dementia becomes combative, which makes everyday life even more of a challenge. A person with dementia might forget an important appointment, how to get home, or to pay bills on time. Eventually, that person might not recognize their children or grandchildren. But dementia is not terminal. It is just a symptom of one of many diseases.
Which diseases cause dementia?
Vascular dementia (atherosclerosis or what used to be called “hardening of the arteries)
HIV and AIDS
Motor Neurone disease
Thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects, alcoholism and depression, all of which are reversible
What is good for the body is good for the brain
To reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, health practitioners recommend eating a heart-healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to support a healthy cardiovascular system, which carries over to a healthy brain. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil supplies plenty of antioxidants and healthy fats.
The adage “use it or lose it” applies to both the mind and the body. It’s important to take every measure possible to maintain healthy weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and the best way is to combine a healthy diet with an exercise regimen that is suitable for your age and physical condition. Please speak with your health practitioner about appropriate guidelines.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. It is a degenerative disease and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s is accompanied by a long list of symptoms, of which memory loss is the most common. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early symptoms include:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
Symptoms increase in later stages of the disease and include:
- Delusions, i.e. thinking something has been stolen
- Agitation, depression, aggression
- Insomnia or changes in sleeping habits
- Loss of inhibitions
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Loss of ability to recognize loved ones
- Loss of ability to communicate
Help is Available
If you suspect that you or someone you know has Alzheimer’s disease, make an appointment with a neurologist. The sooner the disease is diagnosed the better, both for the patient and the family. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet, but there are medications that help slow down its progression.
The Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp) and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (http://alzfdn.org/)
offer wonderful support and education throughout the United States.
Please read the many articles I’ve posted on usedview.com and subscribe today so you can learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and the options available to you as a patient or caregiver.