Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you walked in there? Or have you frantically looked for your car keys thinking that you knew exactly where they were, but they were nowhere to be found? Those types of situations, looked at individually, do not mean you are developing dementia. They could simply be classified as mild forgetfulness, which is a normal part of aging. However, if you find your keys, but don’t know what to do with them, you may want to seek medical advice.
I often hear statements like, “My mother has Alzheimer’s disease” or “My father-in-law has dementia.” These terms seem to be used interchangeably frequently. Many people believe they mean the same thing; the fact that they have different meanings confuses patients, families and caregivers.
Dementia is the general loss of cognitive functions, like thinking and remembering things. Alzheimer’s disease is one of several types of dementia. Types of dementia include (but are not limited to):
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal disorders
- Vascular dementia
According to the Center for Disease Control, the 5.4 million people with Alzheimer’s disease account for 50 to 70 percent of all dementia cases. This is the most common form of dementia, which is why many people use these terms interchangeably.
Plaque may build-up between nerve cells and tangles (twisted fibers of another protein) inside cells, which happens as people age. This plaque is much more developed for those people with Alzheimer’s.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s may include impaired thought or speech, and confusion. The symptom that is most common in the early stages of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering something new. That is why someone might remember an event from decades earlier, but not what they did earlier that day. Over time, however, this recall may continue to get worse. Other symptoms may develop, such as deepening confusion, mood changes, more serious memory loss and even difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
Unlike some other forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is degenerative; currently there is no cure for it. Scientists are trying to figure out how the plaque build-up affects this disease. The good news is that there has been a lot of progress in the last 15 years that could lead to new treatments to help reduce its effects or possibly provide a cure.
Lewy Body Dementia
Named for scientist, Friederich H. Lewy, who discovered irregular protein deposits in the brain stem in the early 1900’s, Lewy Body dementia (LBD) affects approximately 1.4 million Americans. These abnormal protein deposits found in the brain stem disrupt the brain’s normal functioning.
The symptoms of Lewy Body dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia, so this lesser-known form of dementia has been underdiagnosed. However, the core features of LBD include:
- Cognitive impairment, with attention and alertness deficits
- Visual hallucinations
- Sudden Parkinson-related symptoms
Because of the type of disease, people with LBD require wide-ranging treatment. The goal is to find the best treatment for each portion of the disease, without worsening symptoms from other areas. However, these treatments will simply slow the progression of the disease; there is no cure for it at this time.
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by nerve cell damage to the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. The degeneration of the lobes can cause a decline in behavior and personality, language, and muscle/motor skills. This disease generally affects people in their 50s and 60s, but has been found in people as young as in their 20s or as old as in their 80s.
At this time, the only known risk factor for frontotemporal dementia is genetics, which is the leading cause in about a third of these dementia cases. Unlike other forms of dementia, this disorder does not have any treatments to delay the progression of the disease, only medication to reduce anxiety or depression.
Because of the decline in muscle and motor skills, patients tend to wind up wheelchair or bed-bound, with issues chewing, swallowing, moving and other motor skills.
Vascular dementia is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain, caused by a variety of conditions. A lack of blood flow to any part of the body could kill cells, but it is even more damaging to the brain, where there is the biggest network of blood vessels in the body. This might happen after a stroke and could get worse if a person has a series of small strokes.
When the brain does not get enough blood, the result is a decline in thinking skills. This decline could be mild, but could worsen if a person has a series of strokes or other conditions that block the blood flow.
Symptoms of vascular dementia (or vascular cognitive impairment, a term some experts want to use) can vary depending on what area of the brain is damaged from the lack of blood flow. If the portion of the brain that controls memory is not affected, a person’s memory may not be affected either. Other symptoms may include confusion, disorientation, difficulty speaking and/or vision loss. These symptoms may be more obvious right after someone has a stroke, but could improve during recovery. However, symptoms could get worse if a person has another stoke or a series of mini-strokes.
As with other forms of dementia, there is no cure for this disease. Controlling risk factors, such as no smoking, lowering blood pressure and weight, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight could help prevent additional decline.
What can you do?
If you think you or your loved one may have more pronounced memory loss, your doctor can perform a series of screenings, such as blood tests, brain scans or mental evaluations, to confirm the type of dementia you or a loved one has.
Our owner, Richard Ueberfluss, has earned the designation of Certified Dementia Practitioner® from the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. This Council was formed to promote standards of excellence in dementia education to professionals and other caregivers who provide services to dementia clients. Its goal, as is the goal of its members, is to develop and encourage comprehensive standards of excellence in direct-care skills, education and sensitivity in the area of dementia care. Richard is committed to those standards and shares them with everyone at Assisting Hands® Home Care.
We provide our clients with home care so they get the help they need, whether they have mental or physical struggles. We want them to stay safely in their own home for longer. We also provide a respite for you, the family caregiver. Whether you need someone to be with your senior loved one during the day, in the evening or overnight, our at-home care can accommodate your needs. You will have peace of mind knowing that they aren’t home alone when they need help with medication, fall prevention, personal care, eating or other needs.