Difficulty remembering people, places, events or other things throughout each day is a common occurrence as we age. However, when forgetting becomes often enough to make daily life difficult, then it may be more than normal aging. Many people today automatically think of Alzheimer’s disease, but that may not be the answer to their question. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form but is just one of many types of dementia.
If you picture an umbrella, think of the canopy as “dementia”, and the raindrops that fall as the different types of dementia. Dementia may be caused by almost any disease that creates changes in the brain, but the most common forms of dementia are as follows: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and early-onset dementia, just to name a few.
So you may ask, what is the difference between these dementias and Alzheimer’s disease? Dementia is commonly referred to as a set of symptoms, but not the disease itself. Some of these symptoms include loss of memory for recent events and new information, poor planning and problem solving, difficulty with language (i.e. using the wrong words, not being able to recall the names of things, people or places), decreased safety awareness or judgment. Now, you may say that we all have times when these things happen, but the point at which family members and physicians get concerned is when these problems interfere with being able to function normally in daily activities.
When this happens, the best thing to do is to make an appointment with your doctor, who will then be able to run a series of tests to determine if there is true dementia, or if the symptoms are related to another medical condition. Through testing, getting a thorough medical history and observation, the doctor can determine if the patient is showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In order to make a diagnosis of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, CT or MRI testing will be used to eliminate other possible causes for the symptoms that the patient is experiencing. The symptoms may, in fact, be due to brain tumors, past strokes, damage from head trauma, fluid on the brain or other brain malformations among other medical causes that may mimic dementia and able to be corrected with appropriate medical treatment.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 5.3 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly 16 million Americans may suffer from it by 2050. In 2016 the Alzheimer’s Association reported that, in Arkansas, an estimated 55,000 people age 65 and over were diagnosed and living with Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to increase by 21% by 2025 to 67,000. For families and caregivers needing support and guidance, the team at the Ginny and Bob Shell Alzheimer’s Center is here to help! Please feel free to call 501-202-6105 or visit our website to learn more.
References: In Brief for Healthcare Professionals, Issue 7, www.alz.org; Alzheimer’s Association 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimers Dementia 2017;13:325-373