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

Ask the Doctor: Can we prevent this type of dementia?

Some health experts are optimistic that one day we’ll be able to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and possibly reverse it. Until then, regular exercise, a healthy diet, controlled blood pressure, and weight control may help lower the risk. (Locked) More »

The genetic link between Alzheimer's and heart disease

When told they have a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, people may experience less distress if they learn that the same gene variant also increases their risk of heart disease. The gene, APOE, encodes for a protein that transports cholesterol in the bloodstream. People with one copy of the undesirable APOE variant, called e4, face double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease than those without that variant. They also have a slightly higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Learning about the heart-related risk appears to spur people to make healthy behavior changes, such as improving their diets, reducing their stress levels, and being more physically active.  (Locked) More »

Why your gums are so important to your health

Periodontal disease, the leading cause of adult tooth loss, is an inflammatory condition that may increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. The best defenses are regular brushing and flossing, along with not smoking. More »

A new look at treating Alzheimer's disease

Targeting tau proteins, and not just beta-amyloid, may be one of the best ways to identify Alzheimer’s disease early and develop more targeted treatments before the symptoms of the disease become too severe. Several drugs are in development that take this new approach. (Locked) More »

Alzheimer's in the family

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease raises concerns for multiple people in a family. For the person’s children and siblings, the diagnosis means they are at slightly increased risk of developing the condition. However, genetic testing for Alzheimer’s risk genes is not generally helpful.  More »

Exercise: A promising treatment for dementia?

New evidence presented at the July 2015 Alzheimer's Association International Conference suggest that aerobic exercise may be able to protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and improve quality of life if people have the disease. More »