Many of us have heard the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s but aren’t sure of the difference. Dementia is not a disease, rather it describes symptoms of declining mental ability severe enough to affect daily living. Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, impaired communication and language, inability to focus and pay attention, impaired reasoning and judgement, and impaired visual perception. While some forms of dementia are reversible, most are not. Most types of dementia are considered progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse over time.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. The brain has specific areas responsible for their own important functions. Some regions are responsible for speech or help us move our body, while others are responsible for memory. When cells in certain area are damaged, that region can no longer function properly. Some forms of dementia related to depression, medication side effects, alcohol abuse, thyroid problems, and vitamin deficiencies improve when these issues are addressed and treated.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia and accounts for 60-80 percent of all cases. Alzheimer’s symptoms affect memory, thinking and behavior and develop slowly, getting worse as time goes on. Although the greatest know risk factor is age, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Most people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of the 65, but approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The other most important risk factors are family history, and heredity.
At the start of symptoms, memory loss is mild, and many experience difficulties remembering new information. As the disease progresses, individuals lose the ability to have conversations and respond to their surroundings. Those with Alzheimer’s can become disoriented, have mood changes, and can have trouble speaking, swallowing, and walking. Alzheimer’s has become the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. While Alzheimer’s has no cure, there are treatments available that can temporarily slow down symptoms and improve quality of life.
Many times, those with memory loss many find it hard to notice they have a problem. Often, symptoms are more obvious to family and friends. Anyone experiencing dementia like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.