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

Can you recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

Did you ever stride purposefully into a room, stand in one spot, and then wonder what you'd intended to do? Have you ever lost your house keys, or forgot where you parked the car? Relax. Occasional memory slips are natural. "Everyone has these experiences sometimes, but if they frequently happen to you or someone you love, they may be early signs of Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Scott M. McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and Medical Editor of the Harvard Special Health Report A Guide to Coping with Alzheimer's Disease. More »

Another way to think about dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. It often gets confused with normal aging since symptoms can mirror everyday “senior moments,” like forgetting a name or just-learned information. Several factors put people at a greater risk for vascular dementia, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, being overweight, and smoking. Making lifestyle changes offers the best protection against the condition.  More »

What can you do to avoid Alzheimer’s disease?

It is unclear what causes 99% of Alzheimer’s disease cases. However, evidence suggests that healthy lifestyle choices—such as getting more sleep, exercising, and eating a Mediterranean diet—may help delay or prevent the disease. There is promising but conflicting evidence that other lifestyle choices—such as learning new things, connecting socially, and limiting alcohol intake—may also help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. However, all of these healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent other chronic health problems.  More »

Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links

Cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can cause poor blood flow and vascular damage in the brain. Over time, these changes cause a decline in cognitive abilities and pave the way for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Taking steps to manage blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol may help support brain function. (Locked) More »