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Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

For many people, Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia are scary, confusing, and stress-inducing diagnoses to hear. When first presented with such information, most people automatically think of the stereotypical “severe memory loss” that accompanies the disease. They associate this with things such as forgetting the names or faces of loved ones, not remembering to turn off the stove, getting lost coming back from the grocery store they have gone to every week for the last 40 years, and other seemingly mundane tasks. For some, this may be the case; while for others, symptoms may be find presented entirely differently based on their specific diagnosis. Let’s find out some interesting facts about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Let’s begin with understanding what these terms and diagnoses are. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life (such as a decline in memory, communication/language, ability to focus/pay attention, reasoning/judgment, or visual perception); it is not a specific disease, but a term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with memory decline and deficits in other thinking skills. Basically, “dementia” is the main umbrella for which all the diseases of dementia fall under. Some forms of dementia (such as those caused by thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies) are reversible, however most others are considered progressive and are not reversible, meaning they only get worse with time.

Types of Dementia include: Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Mixed dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, and Normal pressure hydrocephalus. We will focus on Alzheimer’s disease since it is the most common type of dementia, however more information about these other types of dementia are available on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease; this accounts for about 60-80% of all cases, and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are often displayed as difficulty remembering recent conversations, events, or names, as well as depression and apathy. As the disease progresses, later symptoms include difficulty with speaking, walking, and swallowing, poor judgment, impaired communication, confusion, disorientation, and behavior changes. In the late-stage of Alzheimer’s, people eventually lose the ability to communicate and respond to their environment.

Although the majority of those diagnosed are 65 years of age or older and the greatest known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is increasing age, about 5% of those with the disease develop it in their 40’s or 50’s. Survival rates can range anywhere between 4 to 20 years after the onset of symptoms. Currently, there are no ways to prevent the onset of the disease because researchers have not yet found any definitive causes; however, the best thing one can do is living a healthy lifestyle full of exercise and healthy eating/living habits.

One of the biggest questions people have is “what is the cure?” Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease at this time. On the bright side, however, there are treatments out there that assist in slowing the worsening of the dementia symptoms, as well as an overwhelming amount of ongoing research. The best thing someone can do is to seek out support and become familiar with all of the local resources available; be sure to contact your local county for help on where to begin.

Keep in mind many people do have memory loss issues, however this does not automatically mean they have dementia. Additionally, severe memory loss is NOT a normal part of aging and should be looked into. For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org. Early diagnosis and intervention methods have been shown to greatly improve quality of life for both the person diagnosed with the disease, as well as those caring for them. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing some of these troubling symptoms, consult your doctor or see a professional; the quicker you seek help, the quicker you can start planning and taking advantage of useful resources.

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