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

For a healthy brain, treat high blood pressure

Fighting high blood pressure also fights dementia—and studies hint that antihypertensive drugs may lower a person’s risk of cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not yet clear whether this is true, or whether some antihypertensive medications might be better than others in this regard. Even if blood pressure medications do help prevent dementia, they will not be a silver bullet. Many different factors and many different pathways lead to dementia, and most risk factors for heart disease are risk factors for dementia as well. Heart health takes a multifactorial approach—lowering cholesterol, watching your blood pressure, eating healthy foods, staying active—and so does brain health. (Locked) More »

Online Alzheimer's tests get "F" from experts

Online tests for Alzheimer's disease are unscientific and unreliable. Online testing can be harmful if a person with real memory problems "passes" the online test and decides not to seek a doctor's opinion. Discuss memory problems with a doctor. (Locked) More »

First rule of dementia prevention: Take care of your heart

There’s a growing awareness among cardiologists and neurologists that a combination of atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque in the arteries) and arteriosclerosis (stiffening of the arteries with age) is a major cause of mental decline. The term vascular cognitive impairment describes the entire disease process, from the first signs of impaired mental function to full-blown vascular dementia. Many if not all of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke are also risk factors for vascular dementia; high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and high blood sugar appear especially relevant. There’s no treatment for vascular dementia, but controlling heart disease risk factors and remaining physically active may prevent it. (Locked) More »

Are you experiencing normal memory loss or dementia?

Many people experience memory slips as they get older. Memory lapses can be a normal part of aging or a side effect of certain medicines or health conditions. The pattern of memory blips can help distinguish normal age-related memory loss from more serious dementia. (Locked) More »