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

High-tech scan reveals protein in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease

A new brain scan called amyloid PET scanning can detect levels of beta amyloid, an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Many older people who do not have Alzheimer’s dementia have a significant amount of amyloid protein in their brains, so amyloid PET scans can’t be used as a general test for Alzheimer’s in people whose minds and memory are still functioning within the normal range. However, the test can be helpful when the disease is suspected but still needs to be confirmed. The test is very expensive and may not be covered by insurance. Unless the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services decides to pay for amyloid PET scanning outside of research studies, its use will probably remain an out-of-pocket expense. (Locked) More »

How to stay in your own home longer

Two kinds of services help people remain in their homes longer. Home health care is covered by Medicare and brings professional nurses and therapists into the home to provide treatment. It’s intended for people who are recovering from illness, injury, or surgery. Private duty care is not covered by Medicare. It provides the day-to-day help most people need for the activities of daily living, such as housekeeping and meal preparation. Care is available for a few hours or 24 hours per day. More »

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 »