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

Alzheimer’s and driving ability

As people grow older, their vision, hearing, reflexes, strength, flexibility, and coordination tend to deteriorate. These physical changes can undermine driving skills, such as being able to see and hear other vehicles, stop suddenly, navigate an intersection safely, or maintain control of a car. Alzheimer's disease only compounds age-related challenges by impairing memory, insight, and reasoning. As Alzheimer's progresses, for instance, a patient may have trouble remembering how to get somewhere, or may become confused (such as stopping at a green light or stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake). Although most experts agree that anyone with moderate to severe Alzheimer's or another dementia should stop driving, no consensus exists about patients at earlier stages of cognitive decline. The American Academy of Neurology and the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry both recommend that patients with mild dementia stop driving. The Alzheimer's Association, however, believes that the determination should be based on driving ability rather than a medical diagnosis. More »