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

Lessons about brain health from a landmark heart study

The Framingham Heart Study—the longest running and best-known study of the causes of heart disease—has also revealed important clues about brain disorders, including stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia. In addition to linking high blood pressure with a higher risk of stroke, the study has confirmed that atrial fibrillation and an enlarged left ventricle contribute to stroke risk. The multigenerational study has also affirmed the importance of exercise and social connections for staving off cognitive decline. More »

Can your eyes see Alzheimer’s disease in your future?

Research shows that people with certain eye diseases, specifically glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy, appear to have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. The underlying link for these conditions may be related to their common risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. (Locked) More »

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. (Locked) 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. (Locked) More »