Dementia is caused by damage to the brain in areas that manage memory, language ability, calculation, organization, logical thinking, and spatial perception. It causes difficulty in carrying out day-to-day activities.
Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia. It is a degenerative neurological disorder of as yet unknown causes that produces a gradual loss of memory and other intellectual functions, such as a decline in decision-making, judgment, spatial-orientation, and socially-acceptable behavior. Over time, these deficits interfere with everyday function and compromise independence.
Alzheimer's is by far the most common cause of dementia, but other lesser know degenerative conditions, such as Lewy Body and Frontotemporal dementia, are being more frequently diagnosed. Other non-degenerative causes of dementia include strokes, poor nutrition, drug interactions, depression, autoimmune diseases, and/or serious head injury.
Treatable conditions (including drug toxicity and various medical conditions) may mimic dementia or worsen symptoms in demented patients. Consequently, the diagnosis of Alzheimer's should never be made without a thorough medical evaluation. While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, patients may significantly improve their lives through the management of their symptoms.
Who gets Dementia?
Dementia is most common in the elderly, particularly over the age of 65. Less commonly, persons under the age of 50 may develop dementia, often due to genetic factors.
Progression of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease begins at the cellular level many years before any cognitive symptoms are noted. The disease progresses in phases, though each patient is different and the disease may progress more or less rapidly:
Cellular changes occur, unnoticed by patient or family, maybe as much as 15-20 years before the first cognitive or behavioral symptom.
Progression to Mild Cognitive Impairment has occurred when the patient notes memory deficits that are demonstrable on testing, but do not yet interfere with everyday life.
Dementia is diagnosed when cognitive and/or behavioral changes are serious enough to interfere with independent daily living. Dementia progresses in the following general phases:
Mild (1-3 years) beginning with difficulty in finding words, forgetfulness, apathy and depression.
Moderate (2-10 years) with chronic loss of recent memory, behavior changes and the need for help with most of the activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, etc.).
Severe (8-12 years) eventual inability to use language or to recognize family, with total dependence on others.
Terminal (1-6 months) Patient may be bedridden, have difficulty swallowing or suffer repeated urinary tract infections, resistant to anti-biotic treatment.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known. Brains of Alzheimer’s patients contain deposits called neuritic plaques (which contain beta-amyloid) and neurofibrillary tangles. In addition, cell loss occurs in certain areas of the brain, especially those related to memory. One of those areas contains the chemical acetylcholine, causing low levels of acetylcholine. Several drugs currently on the market, called cholinesterase inhibitors, try to increase the level of this chemical in the brain. Something about glutamate???Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
No. The cause is not known and there is no cure. However, patient’s lives may be significantly improved through management of their symptoms and through support for and education of family members and caregivers.