We frequently hear the terms Alzheimer's disease and dementia; so much
so, that many mistakenly think they refer to the same condition.
June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting this educational initiative by increasing
awareness about these prevalent, but distinctly different conditions.
Dementia is General
Unlike Alzheimer's, dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it's
an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of diseases and conditions
that damage brain cells, causing cognitive decline that reduces or eliminates
a person's ability to perform everyday tasks.
It's estimated that 4 to 5 million Americans currently are living with
dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia,
accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Nationwide, some 5.5
million people have Alzheimer's.
In addition to Alzheimer's disease, there are several other types of
Vascular dementia–The second most common form of dementia, vascular dementia occurs
following a stroke in which the brain was deprived of oxygen and nutrients,
resulting in diminished thinking skills.
Lewy body dementia–In this type of dementia, which is the third most common form, damaging
protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain
regions related to thinking, memory, and movement.
While symptoms of the various types of dementia can vary significantly,
at least two of the following core mental functions must be markedly impaired
for a diagnosis of dementia to be made:
- Communication and language;
- Ability to focus;
- Reasoning and judgment;
- Visual perception.
Alzheimer's is Specific
Alzheimer’s disease should not be considered a normal part of aging.
Conversely, it is a progressive and ultimately fatal brain disease.
Although those with Alzheimer's may display various symptoms, experts
believe these are the 10 most common:
- Memory difficulties, including: being unable to retain recently learned
information; forgetting important dates/ events; and repeatedly asking
for the same information.
- A diminished ability to follow written instructions, such as a recipe,
or to work with numbers; consequently, a once simple task such as paying
bills becomes difficult or impossible.
- The tasks of daily life–from driving to doing dishes or playing a
favorite game–become increasingly challenging.
- Keeping track of days of the week, seasons, and time in general becomes
problematic for those with Alzheimer's. There are instances in which
they forget where they are and/or how they got there.
- In some cases, vision problems are a sign of Alzheimer's, including
difficulty: reading or judging distance; identifying colors; and driving.
- Struggling to carry on a conversation or to maintain a train of thought.
Those with Alzheimer's often have difficulty finding needed words.
- Placing items in unusual places is a symptom of Alzheimer's, as is
the inability to find misplaced items. Wrongly accusing others of stealing
also may occur.
- Decision-making may become difficult, which can lead to making unwise decisions.
Alzheimer's sufferers also may become disinterested in their personal
appearance and hygiene.
- As a result of Alzheimer's, someone may no longer be able to engage
in a previous hobby or follow a favorite sports team. This could lead
to social withdrawal.
- Those with Alzheimer's may display mood or personality changes, such
as easily becoming upset, angry, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious.
If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, or
two or more symptoms of dementia, it's important to see a doctor who
will conduct a comprehensive assessment. With this information, you and
your care team can together discuss the options to best meet your individual needs.