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

Does a virus cause Alzheimer’s?

Research suggests that some cases of Alzheimer’s disease and some other types of dementia might be triggered by the infection of brain cells with viruses, primarily the herpesviruses. More »

Looking for an earlier sign of Alzheimer’s disease

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment can be an early marker of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But new research has suggested there may be an even earlier clinical sign: subjective cognitive decline (SCD). SCD refers to a situation in which a person notices his thinking abilities are worsening, but standard memory tests can’t verify a decline. Since there is no test to diagnose SCD, the key is to increase self-awareness of changes in memory and consult a doctor as needed. More »

Anticholinergic drugs linked with dementia

Anticholinergic medications used to treat bladder conditions, Parkinson’s disease, and depression are associated with an increased risk of dementia, suggests a new study. People who got dementia had taken the medications for between four and 20 years, and the longer they took the drugs, the greater the risk. More »

Protect your brain from stress

Stress can interfere with the way the brain functions, in some cases resulting in permanent changes and increasing the risk for a memory disorder. Certain types of stress, including chronic stress, may be more damaging than others to the brain. Managing stress by rethinking your daily habits can help to head off potential problems. More »

A personalized approach to preventing Alzheimer’s disease

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, ongoing research suggests that people can lower their risk by adopting certain diet, exercise, and lifestyle behaviors. These include doing adequate amounts of weekly aerobic exercise, following the MIND diet, not smoking, and getting sufficient sleep. More »