Alzheimer’s & Dementia Basics

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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s, which accounts for 50- to 70-percent of dementia cases, was first identified in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer.

He noted a link between “plaques” (dense deposits of the beta amyloid protein that can clump and prevent signals transfer and cell degradation) and “tangles” (fiber clumps of the “tau” protein that can collapse and prevent nutrients from reaching brain cells).

Stages: Early, middle, late, end of life

Symptoms: This is a progressive dementia marked by short-term memory loss, word-naming problems, difficulty with complex tasks, judgement and perception problems, and way-finding difficulties. The person gradually loses the ability for self-care.

What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a medical term used to describe symptoms that cause a decline in cognitive functions—changes in memory, thinking, and social abilities, for example. By definition, these changes are severe enough to affect daily living.

Dementia is not a specific disease—it describes a group of symptoms caused by brain-related illness that affect cognitive function and behaviors.

Symptoms: Common symptoms include cognitive and psychological changes:
Cognitive
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating and finding words
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Difficulty with verbal or written communication
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
  • Difficulty with visual or spatial abilities
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with problem solving and abstract thinking
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with two or more brain functions (memory loss or language changes)
Psychological
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in personality
Dementia or Normal Aging? Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Unlike normal age-related memory changes, dementia gets worse over time. Many diseases and disorders can cause dementia. Some can be reversed or cured and others cannot.
Symptoms May Be Reversible When Associated With...
  • Heart disease
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiency
  • Heat trauma
  • Lung problems
  • Inflammation
  • Extreme stress
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Brain tumors
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Poor nutrition
  • Medication mismanagement
  • Depression
  • Drug overdose
  • Alcohol abuse
  • High fever
  • Thyroid problems
Symptoms May Be Irreversible When Associated With...
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia (also called vascular cognitive impairment
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Amnesia
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • AIDS
Beyond the Basics

An early and accurate diagnosis can result in a higher quality of life, less stress for family care partners, more time to treasure the present, and increased time for future planning.

Though Alzheimer’s is the most common type, dementia comes in many types and is a general medical term used to describe a decline of memory, thinking and other cognitive functioning.

Though there are currently no cures for these diseases, there are medications available to help manage the symptoms and, in some cases, help slow the progression of cognitive decline.

Dementia Myths vs. Facts

MYTH: Dementia is a disease.
FACT: Dementia is not a specific disease—it describes a group of symptoms.

MYTH: Dementia is part of the normal aging process.
FACT: Dementia is NOT a product of typical aging.

MYTH: If you have dementia, the symptoms stay the same.
FACT: Dementia symptoms worsen over time.

Myth: Alzheimer’s happens only to older people.
Fact: Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But it can happen when you’re younger, too. About 5% of people with the disease get symptoms in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. It’s called early-onset Alzheimer’s.

People who have it often go a long time before getting an accurate diagnosis. That’s because doctors don’t usually consider it a possibility during midlife. They often think symptoms like memory loss are from stress.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s can be genetic. Scientists think it involves changes in one of three rare genes passed down from a parent.

Myth: Alzheimer’s is caused by aluminum, flu shots, silver fillings, or aspartame.
Fact: You may have heard that cooking with aluminum pans or drinking from aluminum cans causes Alzheimer’s. But there’s no scientific evidence to back that claim.

alzheimer's & dementia basics: Dementia Myths vs. Facts
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