Alzheimer's & Dementia

The word dementia means deprived of mind. It is a catchall term that covers memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, a decline in thinking skills, and dwindling ability to perform everyday activities.

There are many types of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common. Half or more of people with dementia have Alzheimer's disease. It is caused by the accumulation of tangles and clumps of protein in and around brain cells. These tangles and clumps make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with one another, and can eventually kill them.

Vascular dementia, the second most common type, develops when cholesterol-clogged arteries can't deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Sometimes small blockages completely cut off the blood supply to a part of the brain, causing nearby brain cells to die.

The terms dementia and Alzheimer's are often used interchangeably. In part, that's because it is very hard to tell them apart. Usually, a specific type of dementia can only be diagnosed by an autopsy after someone has died.

Dementia affects areas of the brain involved in learning and memory. So a common symptom is difficulty in recalling new information. Memory loss disrupts daily life. An individual with dementia may get lost in a once-familiar neighborhood. He or she may have increasing trouble making decisions, solving problems, or making good judgments. Mood and personality may change. A person with dementia can become more irritable or hostile, or lose interest in almost everything.

Once dementia has developed, it is usually hard to reverse. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and slow its progression. Some medications can help slow the intellectual decline in mild to moderate dementia. Psychotherapy techniques like reality orientation and memory retraining can also help people with this condition.

A small percentage of people with dementia develop the condition because of medical issues such as an underactive thyroid gland, an infection, not getting enough vitamin B12, medication side effects, or drinking too much alcohol. In these cases, treating the underlying cause can reverse the dementia.

Alzheimer's & Dementia Articles

Could changes in thinking skills be reversible dementia?

We use the term "dementia" to describe a number of conditions that cause permanent thinking skills changes, such as memory loss and confusion. The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which is characterized by clumping proteins that get tangled in and around brain cells, eventually causing them to die. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, caused by decreased blood flow to the brain from atherosclerosis—the accumulation of fatty deposits on artery walls. Once dementia strikes, the damage is permanent, and we don't have many treatment options. So, before a diagnosis is made, it's crucial to rule out whether the causes for dementia are actually reversible conditions. More »

Can drinking tea prevent dementia?

A new study suggests being a regular drinker of tea may protect against dementia, especially for people who are genetically predisposed to the disease. Researchers point to tea components like flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential, and L-theanine, which regulates neurotransmitter and brain activities. More »

The healing power of art

Creative activities, particularly when undertaken with the direction of a trained art therapist, can relieve stress and aid communication in people with cancer, dementia, or depression. Doing arts and crafts can help arrest cognitive decline in healthy older people. (Locked) More »

Looking for early signs of Alzheimer’s

For a long time, memory loss was seen as the telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but this is not necessarily the best way to identify the disease in its earliest stages. In fact, it is now believed that Alzheimer’s-related changes begin in the brain at least a decade before common symptoms emerge. The goal now is to find multiple markers and use a consolidated effort in hopes of diagnosing the disease as early as possible. More »

Can you recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

Did you ever stride purposefully into a room, stand in one spot, and then wonder what you'd intended to do? Have you ever lost your house keys, or forgot where you parked the car? Relax. Occasional memory slips are natural. "Everyone has these experiences sometimes, but if they frequently happen to you or someone you love, they may be early signs of Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Scott M. McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and Medical Editor of the Harvard Special Health Report A Guide to Coping with Alzheimer's Disease. More »