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

Common drugs linked to dementia

Long-term use of anticholinergic drugs, including drugs for depression, sleeping, allergies, and bladder control, is associated with an increased risk of dementia. (Locked) More »

Vascular dementia

The word dementia means "deprived of mind." It's a catchall term that covers the memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, and dwindling ability to perform everyday activities that affect millions of older people. One main cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia. It develops when cholesterol-clogged blood vessels can't deliver enough oxygen to the brain. Small blockages deprive some brain cells of oxygen, causing a series of small strokes that kill brain cells. The brain damage is often so small and so subtle that it goes unnoticed. The mental deterioration proceeds in a stepwise pattern, in which a person experiences some cognitive decline, stabilizes, then gets worse after another undetected stroke. Vascular dementia can also develop after a person has a major stroke . This may cause an abrupt mental change, sometimes accompanied by paralysis or slurred speech. More »

Mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment is a slight but noticeable change in thinking and memory skills. People with mild cognitive impairment may lose things often, have difficulty recalling names or words, miss appointments, and have a harder time finding familiar places and keeping track of important dates. These changes are large enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them or to other people, but aren't severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function. People with mild cognitive impairment don't have dementia. Some eventually go on to develop Alzheimer's or other type of dementia. Others don't. There are several types of mild cognitive impairment. They are based on the thinking skills affected: More »

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 »