Get Informed About Alzheimer's and Dementia
The older a person gets, the greater the chance of developing medical conditions and complications. Even people who maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen can be affected by the process of aging.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are two conditions that result from neurodegenerative diseases or deterioration of brain cells that can creep up on just about anyone as they advance in age. In the United States, Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death, with 1 in 3 seniors dying from this condition or another dementia.
There is no scientifically proven way to prevent or cure these conditions. However, current treatment options are available to help slow their progression and reduce the risk of health complications. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help someone, or their caregiver, to seek treatment early.
What is Alzheimer's and Dementia?
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative brain disease that affects men and women in their mid 30's to 60's and beyond. It occurs due to progressive death of brain cells. Alzheimer’s impairs memory and certain mental functions, such as making the person forget important people in their life. Difficulty completing routine tasks or differentiating colors, behavioral changes, and forgetting dates, time or seasons are all signs of this disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is closely associated with dementia. Dementia is a syndrome caused by a group of brain disorders. It interferes with a person’s memory, social, functional, and problem-solving skills, and their ability to communicate. Dementia may also result from genetics, traumatic brain injury or brain disorders. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia and accounts for 60-80 percent of all dementia. Other common types of dementia are:
- Lewy body dementia
- Parkinson's disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Huntington's disease
- Vascular dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Mixed dementia
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s and dementia have similar neurological and behavioral symptoms. As such, similar tests are performed to diagnosis these conditions.
- Physical Exam - The doctor will conduct a physical exam first to test reflexes, hearing and vision, muscle tone and strength, and ability to perform certain simple functions, e.g., getting up.
- Cognitive and Neurological Tests - The doctor will also evaluate the patient’s cognitive ability. Memory, language skills, attention, orientation, and the ability to reason and make judgment are assessed. Checking coordination, balance, and visual perception are also part of the cognitive and neurological tests.
- Lab Tests - Certain health problems, e.g. an underactive thyroid gland, that can interfere with brain functions such as memory and orientation can be detected through blood tests. Additionally, the doctor may test the spinal fluid to check for signs of infection, inflammation or degenerative diseases.
- Brain Scans - There are multiple types. They are:
- Computerized Tomography (CT): Conditions that result in brain dysfunctions, e.g., hydrocephalus, stroke, tumor, or bleeding in the brain can be detected or ruled out using a CT scan.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This procedure provides detailed images of the brain and can reveal issues, such as shrinking, in certain regions of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. It can also rule out conditions that cause cognitive symptoms in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET): This test is able to determine which parts of the brain are not functioning well and detect abnormalities in dementia patients that are linked to Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Treatment Options
Drug and non-drug options are available to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia and slow their progression.
- Medications - There are many different types of medications that may be chosen. Most of them work on the chemical balance in the brain in an effort to increase memory.
- Occupational therapy - An occupational therapist can be useful in helping to show the person affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia or their caregivers how to make the home safer. They may receive tips on managing associated behavioral symptoms. In preparing for any eventuality, the patient should wear a medical alert bracelet when leaving the home unaccompanied.
- Environmental Modification - Modifying the living environment to make it safer and more supportive may become necessary. Bed and bathroom rails, locks, and childproof stove knobs can be installed to minimize hazards such as a fire, falls, or injury from sharp objects such as knives.
- Modifying Tasks - Creating structure and routine and breaking up tasks into segments can make things more organized and help reduce confusion. It helps to store keys and wallets in the same place, keep a list of tasks, and check them off once completed. A mobile phone with a GPS system that tracks location can help loved ones track the individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia in case they get confused or lost.
- Nutrition and Exercise - Maintaining health and wellness through diet and exercise can improve the quality of life of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Walking daily for 30 minutes can improve blood circulation and sleep, boost energy, and regulate moods. Healthy meals can provide the nutrients needed to nourish the body and brain and strengthen the immune system.
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