Understanding Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease

Understanding Dementia & Alzheimer's

Dementia isn’t any one single disease. Instead, it’s a catch-all term for a series of impairments that can have different root causes. The areas of cognition impacted by the disease relate to memory, thought, and decision-making. A prominent cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. However, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that this disease may account for between 60% and 80% of all cases of dementia. This means that 20-40% of dementia cases are not caused by Alzheimer’s.

Other forms of dementia and their causes include:

  • Vascular dementia (blocked/reduced blood flow in the brain)
  • Lewy body dementia (alpha-synuclein protein build-up damaging brain cells)
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia (also caused by a protein build-up)
  • Frontotemporal dementia (cell breakdown in frontal and temporal lobes of the brain)
  • Huntington’s disease (caused by a defective protein gene)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (caused by an infectious and misshapen natural protein)
  • Mixed dementia (when more than one type of dementia is present)

It’s known that several forms of dementia are influenced by cardiac health. So keeping the heart healthy and managing any existing medical conditions well can lower the risk of developing dementia.

What Is The Cause Of Alzheimer’s Disease?

There are two forms of Alzheimer’s disease, characterized by the life stage when the symptoms first become apparent. Early-onset is the rarest form of the disease, and it begins before the age of 65. Late-onset is more common and takes place in older adults of 65+ years.

Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles form in the brain due to the disease. Although the responsible protein is natural, its levels are not, so it begins to clump.

A secondary protein known as tau is a microtubule fiber, and it begins to twist and fold. This is due to its chemical composition being abnormal. The progression of Alzheimer’s follows a recognizable pattern as the disease moves throughout the brain.

Once the course of Alzheimer’s disease begins to progress, it is not possible to reverse the damage. Though the progression may be slow, skills related to thought and memory are gradually lost. Eventually, even basic daily tasks can become too demanding for a senior suffering from dementia.

The chances of developing Alzheimer’s are most directly tied to age. The direct role of genes in determining Alzheimer’s is rare, but if you have a parent or sibling with the disease, you do have an elevated risk. Other factors, such as environmental triggers and dietary intake, are still the focus of ongoing research.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia?

Symptoms may be the initial sign that dementia is present, yet neurological changes usually start in the preceding years.

In the beginning, the hippocampus is impacted the most, accounting for memory issues. Towards the end of the disease progression, the brain is affected, and the brain’s mass is considerably reduced.

Although symptoms may not be the same for everyone with dementia, difficulty recalling names and words is expected in the early stages. Short-term memory is typically affected, and easy activities become harder. The ability to plan and organize becomes impaired, and the sufferer can become confused in once-familiar surroundings.

Any symptoms listed above should be reported to a doctor immediately. This is important because they will need to rule out any drug interactions, side effects, or vitamin deficiencies that could also account for these symptoms. Whether another condition is causing the dementia-like symptoms or not, having time to plan is a valuable resource.

A doctor may also be able to suggest clinical trials that aim to reduce the symptoms and slow or stop the progression of the disease.

How Do Dementia Symptoms Progress?

During the middle stages, forgetfulness is more extensive and includes the loss of personal details about oneself. Confusion and frustrations escalate and can lead to social withdrawal. Increasingly, help is needed to keep the sufferer safe and well as their personality and behavior changes.

In late-stage Alzheimer’s, changes become even more significant and extensive. For example, a senior with advanced Alzheimer’s may have trouble with bodily actions like swallowing. The level of assistance required to stay healthy is most extensive during this phase of the progression.

Conclusion: there are many techniques suggested by experts that can help alleviate the emotional distress of behavioral symptoms. Looking out for the signs of unmet human needs is essential, such as hunger, thirst, and bladder/bowel movements.

Be patient and always aim to relax someone who has dementia instead of attempting to dispute their mistaken beliefs. Distracting them with a change of subject is better than dwelling on a question that has an answer that will lead to distress. Try to respond in the least stressful way for them to hear.

What Can I Do To Keep A Senior With Dementia Safe?

Put up signs around the home that explain functional objects in simple language or images. Mark hazards clearly, and consider other steps to make dangerous objects like stove-tops safer.

When wandering starts to become an issue and 24-hour care is not in place, look into location monitoring programs that can keep your loved one safe. You can also take steps around the home that can substantially reduce the risk of wandering. This includes removing items that may trigger them into an exit pattern, such as hats and coats by the front door.

Alerts on doors and pressure-sensitive mats are helpful to signal a departure if there are others present in the house. Some alert systems are capable of sending notifications via a WiFi or cellular connection. It’s sensible to notify neighbors of the wandering risk and ask them to call you if they see such behavior.

An ideal proactive step is to maintain a one-sheet that includes a current photo of them. Also, please list all the places they have frequented in the past and provide addresses and phone numbers. This can be passed along to friends, family, and the local police at a moment’s notice to help locate them quickly.

Be aware that any efforts to disguise or block exits from the house are potentially dangerous if the senior lives alone. In an emergency such as a fire, the senior with dementia may become trapped.

Baxter Senior Living provides an Anchorage memory care option to consider if you are looking for support for your loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

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