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

Physical vs. mental activity

Physical activity and mental stimulation are both considered vital for protecting your mental skills and warding off dementia. Many studies have shown consistently that regular exercise can increase the volume of brain regions important for memory and thinking. There is also abundant evidence that mental activity maintains cognitive health. A modest amount of aerobic exercise is sufficient to produce positive cognitive results. Many studies have employed regimens of moderate-intensity walking three days a week. For mental activity, doctors recommend activities that require active engagement, such as reading or crossword puzzles, not passive engagement, such as watching television. (Locked) More »

Brain plaque vs. Alzheimer's gene

Two tests are available to determine if you are at increased risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease: a test for a gene known as APOE4 and a brain imaging test called a PET scan. Research shows that the brain scan is a better predictor. High amounts of beta-amyloid or brain plaque on the scan indicate that the disease has already taken hold. PET scans can be valuable because they can help determine if dementia is due to Alzheimer’s disease. (Locked) More »

New hope for Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s research is starting to focus more heavily on preventing this devastating illness. Investigators are targeting collections of abnormal protein in the brain called beta-amyloid and looking into the role of tau tangles. Scientists are also studying how inflammation and blood vessel damage might influence Alzheimer’s development. Until this work bears fruit, women should make efforts to preserve their brain function by staying mentally and physically active. More »

Alzheimer's drug update

Studies of two Alzheimer’s drugs (bapineuzumab and solanezumab) ended in disappointment. The drugs are designed to fight the build up of an abnormal protein, beta-amyloid, in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease in order to delay or possibly even stop the progression of the illness. Intravenous versions of the drugs failed to help people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. But the preliminary evidence suggests that planned new clinical trials may produce better results. (Locked) More »

Can we reverse Alzheimer's?

Two new approaches to treating Alzheimer’s disease offer hope for meaningful treatment in the near future. One is PBT2, a drug that prevents metals in the brain from driving the production of plaques and tangles that kill neurons. Another is Neuro AD, a therapy that challenges a person to solve problems on a computer right after it uses noninvasive electromagnetic energy to stimulate the brain region required to give the answer. It doesn’t cure the disease, but it appears to make the brain circuits work better, which can lead to a striking improvement in cognitive abilities for daily tasks. More »

Avoid landing back in the hospital

Men are at a significantly higher risk of returning for urgent care within a month after being discharged from the hospital. It appears that men who are socially isolated—single, retired, and depressed—are more likely to return for urgent care. Doctors advise that both men and women should arrange for a caregiver to help at the time of hospital discharge and once at home to ensure adherence to a recovery regimen and physician follow-up. (Locked) More »

Depression: Early warning of dementia?

Researchers have discovered that older people who are depressed are more likely to develop dementia. The two conditions appear to share common causes. Many older adults miss the signs of depression, believing it to be an inevitable consequence of aging. It’s important for older adults who are depressed to get treated with antidepressant medicines, talk therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, and to get evaluated for dementia. More »