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: Different dementias

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and dementia with Lewy bodies overlap substantially, but some symptoms point more strongly to the latter kind of dementia. Treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms. (Locked) More »

Does a statin prevent dementia?

Despite an FDA warning linking statins with memory loss, there is no good evidence that these drugs affect cognitive function. However, there isn’t enough evidence to warrant taking them just to lower the risk of dementia, either. (Locked) More »

Successful aging: Who stays healthy?

A new concept of successful aging includes more than just freedom from major chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. It also means freedom from physical disability, loss of memory and mental skills, and major mental health issues. Certain lifestyle measures make a person more likely to achieve successful aging. These include healthy diet and body weight, regular exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption. (Locked) More »