What You Need To Know about Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Brain Dementia and Alzheimer's Primer

Did you know that dementia isn’t a disease? It’s also not one of those inevitable aspects of aging, like getting shorter or losing muscle mass. (In fact, it’s not even a normal part of the aging process, according to the National Institute on Aging.)

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions marked by cognitive problems that interfere with everyday life, sometimes significantly. Telltale signs include:

  • A noticeable decline in memory
  • Changes in thinking and communication skills
  • Poor judgment and ability to reason
  • Problems maintaining focus

Common Types of Dementia

While the symptoms are often similar, there are several distinct types of dementia. These are the most common.

Alzheimer’s disease. The most common form of dementia in older adults, Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly, progressively destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, it prevents you from carrying out simple tasks.

Frontotemporal dementia: Caused by damage to the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, frontotemporal dementia is also a progressive condition. Most cases (roughly 60%) occur in people ages 45 to 64.

Lewy body dementia (LBD). This disease is associated with deposits of a type of protein in the brain. The deposits, known as Lewy bodies, affect brain chemicals that play a role in thinking, movement, behavior and mood. There are two types of LBD: dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Vascular dementia. Vascular dementia results from injury to the vessels supplying blood to the brain. It can develop from the same risk factors associated with stroke, including atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Mixed dementia. This is a term used when you have a combination of two or more disorders, at least one of which is a form of dementia.

What Else Could You Have?

Memory problems and other typical warning signs do not always mean you have dementia. A range of conditions have some similar symptoms. Unlike dementia, these can get better once you treat the cause:

  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
  • Side effects of certain medicines
  • Depression
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Blood clots or tumors in the brain
  • Head injury, such as a concussion from a fall or accident
  • Thyroid, kidney, or liver problems

If you have a concern about any physical, mental or cognitive changes, no matter how minor, make an appointment with your primary care physician. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start down the right path of treatment.

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