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June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month

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 dementia, including:

  • 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:

  • Memory;
  • 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:

  1. Memory difficulties, including: being unable to retain recently learned information; forgetting important dates/ events; and repeatedly asking for the same information.
  1. 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.
  1. The tasks of daily life–from driving to doing dishes or playing a favorite game–become increasingly challenging.
  1. 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.
  1. In some cases, vision problems are a sign of Alzheimer's, including difficulty: reading or judging distance; identifying colors; and driving.
  1. Struggling to carry on a conversation or to maintain a train of thought. Those with Alzheimer's often have difficulty finding needed words.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Sources:

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp#signs

https://www.alz.org/indiana/in_my_community_abam.asp

https://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_research.asp

https://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp#dementia