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

Forgetful? When to worry about memory changes

Memory changes can be scary, but they don’t always indicate Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Even so, a physician should evaluate sudden changes in the ability to perform daily activities. Early diagnosis has a number of benefits. (Locked) More »

Train your brain

As people age, cognitive skills wane and thinking and memory become more challenging, so they need to build up the brain’s reserve. Embracing a new activity that requires thinking, learning, ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to improve cognitive skills like memory recall, problem solving, and processing speed. More »

What to do about mild cognitive impairment

Everyone has occasional bouts of forgetfulness, but if these episodes become frequent or interfere with daily life, it may be a sign of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI—a stage between the usual cognitive decline of normal aging and more serious dementia. While there is no single proven method for preventing or slowing MCI, research has found that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by eating right, exercising, and perhaps enlisting in an MCI-focused clinical trial. (Locked) More »

Can brain training programs actually improve memory?

Brain training programs operate on the premise that practicing one cognitive task will translate into better memory and intelligence. However, available studies are often flawed. More research is needed before these programs are deemed to have any health benefit. More »

Midlife heart health shows a link with future risk of dementia

People who have high blood pressure and diabetes and who smoke during middle age have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. These vascular (blood vessel) risk factors may leave them more prone to dementia 25 years later. Having diabetes in middle age may be almost as risky as having the gene variant known as APOE4, which is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Even slightly elevated blood pressure during midlife may be associated with dementia in later life. (Locked) More »