Dementia, a decline in memory and thinking skills, is a significant medical concern as you age or watch someone you love age. It's estimated that up to 8 percent of all adults over age 65 may have some form of dementia. Researchers say that this percentage doubles every five years after 65. Nearly 50 million people worldwide are living with some type of dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms that include memory problems and impaired thinking. Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that affects parts of the brain controlling memory, thought and language. Alzheimer's disease is the most often diagnosed form of dementia.
In 1906, German pathologist and psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer described a patient who had suffered from memory loss and exhibited paranoia and other psychological changes. He noted in her autopsy that the brain was significantly smaller than normal and there were missing microscopic changes in the appearance of the nerve cells.
There are three stages of Alzheimer's:
In the early stage, you may function independently. You may still work, drive and maintain social connections. But you may notice memory lapses, and you may not be able to retrieve familiar words as easily or remember where you placed everyday objects. You may begin to feel unsure about a familiar route home in your car.
The middle stage typically lasts the longest and may continue for a number of years. As the disease advances, you'll require a more intensive level of care.
In the final stage of this disease, you may still be able to speak, but communicating important information becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills fade, you may need extensive help with daily activities.
Difficulty remembering the names of new people
Challenges performing tasks at work
Increasing difficulty with planning and organizing
Forgetting something you've just read
Forgetfulness about important personal events and personal history
Inability to remember your own address or telephone number
Confusion about what day it is
Inability or difficulty selecting clothing appropriate for the season or occasion
Increased risk of getting lost when driving
Getting days and nights mixed up with sleeping habits
Need 24/7 help with daily activities, including personal care
Lose awareness of recent experiences and your surroundings
No longer be able to walk, sit, and eventually, swallow
Have increasing difficulty communicating
Contract infections, especially pneumonia
Your HonorHealth neurologist diagnoses Alzheimer's disease by taking a careful history and doing a mental status examination. MRIs and blood tests are used to primarily exclude other correctable forms of dementia.
Researchers are still working to identify the cause or causes of Alzheimer's disease. Scientists have focused their attention on understanding protein build-up in the brain:
Research suggests that the plaques and tangles cause the deterioration of neurons (nerve cells) and synapses, the connecting tissue between neurons that allows information to be passed from neuron to neuron. These changes result in significant decline in the temporal and parietal lobes and parts of the frontal cortex in the brain.
Risk factors for developing Alzheimer's include increasing age, having a close family member with the disease and many of the same risk factors that cause heart disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, your neurologist will work with you and your family to help you manage daily living with the disease. Your neurologist may prescribe a medication that may help slow symptoms of the condition:
One type of medication is a cholinesterase inhibitor. The most commonly used medication in this class is donepezil. These medications can help to prevent progression of memory loss and difficulty in thinking and reasoning associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Another medication, memantine, helps patients maintain some of their functions for a longer period of time