What Is Dementia?

What is dementia? Dementia is a collective term for a group of neurocognitive disorders (NCDs) characterized by a decline in cognitive functions such as memory, language, recognizing, reasoning, or planning. Dementia itself is not a specific disease but rather encompasses an array of symptoms associated with a gradual decline in memory or thinking skills. This decline is beyond what is expected with normal aging, i.e. as we age, our neurons degenerate affecting our ability to remember or identify things, objects or people.

Symptoms of dementia are usually severe enough to affect daily life. It is progressive and ultimately impairs the ability of an individual to carry out routine functions, such as doing household chores, driving, bathing, dressing, and feeding etc.

What Lisa Genova wrote in Still Alice, “and while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity. Those with cancer could expect to be supported by their community. Alice expected to be an outcast”, was not just a melodramatic take on forgetfulness at the time it was written, rather was an unwavering sternness of situation for dementia sufferers.

Today, little less has improved due to public awareness but altogether they have been unable to caste a substantial impact on the social arena.

 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is caused by physical changes in the brain. It progresses slowly sometimes over years and sometimes over decades, making it difficult to evaluate and diagnose the disease at an early phase.

A definitive diagnosis requires several visits with the neurologist or psychiatrist over a certain period of time. The diagnosis of dementia is important to rule out other causes of mental impairments and offer timely treatments and solutions to the patients.

In the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has replaced the word “dementia” with “major and minor neurocognitive disorder” to help reduce the stigma associated with the word. The word “dementia” means “mad or insane” in Latin.

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What Is Dementia? What Are the Different Types of Dementia?

Based on the signs, symptoms and the site of brain they affect; dementia can be divided into at least 10 disorders. These include:

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1.     Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first studied the disease in 1906, Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that gradually destroys a person’s ability to think, reason, and recall memories. It is the leading form of dementia in today’s population.

Overtime the person loses the ability to communicate and carry out routine work including bathing, eating and dressing up.

Alzheimer’s is progressive and chronic, i.e., it starts slowly but gets worse over time.

Alzheimer’s develops as a result of loss of neurons and synapses in brain. A synapse is a gap between two neurons that facilitates neurotransmission – the passage of a neurotransmitter (or brain chemical) from one neuron to another.

As a result brain cells or neurons, deteriorate and lose their normal function over time. The loss of chemical connection between neurons results in the brain cell death.

 The earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s is poor memory or short term memory loss. As the disease advances, it begins to manifest itself as:

  • Problems in communication
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Repetitiveness
  • Inability to manage routine chores
  • Mood swings
  • Behavioral issues
  • A complete loss of touch with reality
  • Social withdrawal

Doctors do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s. Genetics and heredity are said to play the major role in the development of the condition. Other risk factors include:

  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • A history of head injuries

Alzheimer’s is diagnosed with a help of complete medical history, medical imaging and blood tests to rule out other probable causes.

Currently, there is no treatment or cure for the disease. The damage caused by Alzheimer’s is irreversible. However, tremendous research is underway providing hope for the treatment of the poorly understood disease in future.

60-80% of dementia cases are attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

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2.     Vascular Dementia (VD)

Also known as multi-infarct or post-stroke dementia, VD is a type of dementia that develops when brain cells die due to the lack of oxygen supply. The lack of oxygen supply is mainly due to the narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels.

VD occurs most commonly after a major stroke, or a series of mini-strokes, when the blood supply to the brain is affected as a result of an infarct – or a blood clot.

The signs and symptoms of VD appear slowly and deteriorate over time, i.e., typically between 5-10 years following a stroke. These include:

  • Impaired judgement
  • Mild but progressive deterioration in cognitive functions, i.e., ability to think, organize, and plan
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble speaking
  • Changes in mood
  • Confusion and agitation
  • Trouble walking

VD accounts for 10% cases of dementia.

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3.     Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB)

This type of dementia develops when microscopic proteins, called Lewy Bodies, deposit in the cortex of the brain. Like Alzheimer’s, DLB is associated with a memory loss and a trouble with attention, organization and problem-solving, but the chief symptoms that separate DLB from Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia is the marked and unmistakable presence of:

  • Visual hallucinations – particularly just before sleeping and right after waking up.
  • Parkinsonism – a degenerative disease of the central nervous system (CNS) occurring as a result of depletion of dopamine neurons in the brain. Dopamine is a type of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the presence of tremors and muscular rigidity.

The diagnosis of DLB is straightforward; a brain scan is not always necessary.

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4.     Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD)

As Parkinson’s progresses, it affects cognitive functions and results in a dementia similar to Alzheimer’s or DLB. In fact, PDD develops in  50-80% of the patients with Parkinson’s disease. However, the symptoms develop slowly, i.e., about 10 years after the occurrence of Parkinson’s.

The signs and symptoms of PDD entail troubled memory and movement disorder.

PDD imparts brain changes in the person that are recognized by the formation of clumps, called alpha-synuclein clumps, deep down in the brain (substantia nigra). The clumps are thought to affect dopamine-neurons in substantia nigra.

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5.     Mixed Dementia

It is possible for a person to have two types of dementias – called Mixed Dementia – usually a combination of Alzheimer’s with another type i.e. vascular dementia.

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6.     Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) Or Pick’s Disease

Frontotemporal dementia affects the particular regions of the brain, i.e., frontal and temporal lobes. It occurs when abnormal proteins buildup on the inside of the neurons. As a result of this abnormal protein clumping, the neurons die leading to a plethora of signs and symptoms such as:

  • Drastic behavioral or personality changes
  • Early social withdrawal
  • Impaired speech and language
  • Difficulty in structuring and pronouncing words
  • Forgetfulness

 

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  • Based On The Symptoms, There Are Three Main Types Of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

  1. Behavioral-Variant FTD (bv-FTD) – is the most common type characterized by an early social withdrawal, changes in personal hygiene and a denial of probable illness on patient’s part. The patient undergoes a drastic behavior change and becomes rigid in thinking, and develops a large appetite.
  2. Semantic Dementia or Temporal-Variant FTD (TV-FTD) – is manifested by a loss of meaning to words. The affected person shows a difficulty in naming things, and later on completely forgets the meaning of different words, objects and things.
  3. Progressive Non-fluent Aphasia (PNFA) – concerns speech difficulties. The person cannot coordinate the muscles required for speech. Eventually, the person is reduced to delivering the monosyllable speech or becoming totally mute.

The disease is diagnosed with imaging studies that show a shrinking of frontal and temporal lobes.

7.     Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is another neurodegenerative disease caused by a defective gene present on chromosome 4. It is hereditary in nature and passes from parents to children.

Having a family member with Huntington’s disease increases your risk of developing the condition as well. The symptoms typically start between 30-50 years of age and include:

  • Loss of memory
  • Trouble with thinking, reasoning, organizing and managing
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor judgement

There is no cure for Huntington’s Disease.

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8.     Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

This is a rare form of dementia that develops when prions, a type of protein, attacks the normal protein in the brain and makes it undergo abnormal folding. It initiates a cluster of dementia symptoms, including:

  • Confusion and poor judgement
  • Poor memory
  • Mood swings and/or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Twitching or jerking of muscles
  • Trouble walking

 

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9.     Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus develops when fluid is accumulated in the brain. The condition exhibits in the form of troubled memory, thinking, reasoning, walking and urinary incontinence.

Some, not all, symptoms can be reversed by removing fluid from the brain with a technique called shunt.

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10. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

This condition develops as a result of severe deficiency of vitamin B-1, also called thiamine, as is common in heavy drinkers.

Wernicke-Korsakoff mainly affects only memory; sparing problem-solving and thinking skills.

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How Common Is Dementia?

Affecting 47.5 million people, dementia has a worldwide prevalence. Every 1 in 10 persons is likely to develop the condition in their lifetime. The probability of developing dementia increases with age, i.e., it affects 3% of people between the ages of 65–74, 19% between 75-84, and around 50% of those over 85 years of age.

The incidences of Dementia are rising; approximately 75.6 million people will develop dementia by 2030; 141 million by 2050. It is significantly increasing economic burden i.e., costing 604 billion USD a year. People with dementia are often physically dependent on the caregivers.

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What Is Dementia? What Are Causes Of Dementia

Dementia is caused by damage to your brain cells, or neurons. This damage, heralding a cascade of changes in the brain, affects the ability of neurons to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate with each other, it affects your memory, thinking, and behavior.

Your brain is divided into many distinct regions or lobes, each performing a particular function, such as memory processing, storage and recall, thinking, judgement, reasoning and movement. When brain cells in the particular lobe are damaged or dead, that region cannot carry out its functions normally.

Different types of dementia are associated with different types of cell damage across the brain.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Scientists are not sure about the exact cause behind Alzheimer’s but they do know for a fact that high levels of certain proteins, called beta amyloid, build up inside and outside brain cells disrupting normal neurotransmission. Such people also develop disorganized masses of protein fiber, called neurofibrillary tangles, in the brain cells.

Neurotransmission  is vital to performing different functions of life. When brain cells in the learning center of the brain, called the hippocampus, die or are damaged, it affects memory. Memory loss is the chief symptom of Alzheimer’s.

  • Vascular Dementia: occurs when cerebral blood vessels get clogged with blood clots or fatty deposits. As mentioned above, VD occurs most commonly in patients who have survived or are at a heightened risk of stroke.
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies: develops when Lewy bodies, abnormal proteins, build up in brain cells. This type of dementia has symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s, such as trembling or stiffness. Patients also experience clear and long-lasting hallucinations and may even act out their dreams which can be a frightening experience for their bed partner.
  • Parkinson Disease Dementia: It is usually the progressive form of Parkinson’s having symptoms resembling closely with dementia with lewy bodies.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia: occurs when neurons in the frontal and temporal lobe of the brain begin to die. Though its symptoms resemble Alzheimer’s but with an early onset.
  • Mixed Dementia: usually develops in people with advanced age, i.e., over 85. It has more than cause – a person with Alzheimer’s develops vascular dementia.

Apart from these, there can be a number of reasons for dementia. Some of them include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B12 (cobalamine) deficiency
  • Lyme disease – an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi
  • depression
  • infection of the brain, i.e., encephalitis
  • some brain tumors
  • head injury
  • long-term alcohol misuse

Am I At Risk of Dementia?

You may be at an increased risk of dementia if you:

  • Are elderly, i.e., aged 65 and older. The risk of dementia is linked closely with the age. Nearly one in every nine people aged 65; and one in every three people aged 85 or older has Alzheimer’s.
  • Have a family history of dementia. Having a parent or sibling with dementia increases your likelihood of having the disease.
  • Are a habitual heavy drinker.
  • Have a deficiency of vitamin B1 and B12
  • Have a chronic and uncontrolled hypertension
  • Have a history of strokes or mini-strokes

Do I Need Screening For Dementia?

Currently, there are no standard screening recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF finds inadequate evidence directed on the benefits of screening for cognitive impairment.

How Is Dementia Evaluated And Diagnosed?

Getting a proper assessment of cognitive functions is extremely important especially if you think you have a problem with memory or thinking. For all you know, these may be the symptoms of depression or infection.

If the cause, however, is dementia, the assessment is all the more useful for it can provide answers to why you are forgetting things or have trouble recalling names. Such an assessment paves way for an early clinical or therapeutic intervention.

While there is no cure for the irreversible damage done to the neurons, there are ways to arrest the reversible causative factors.

The most commonly used assessment test for dementia is called The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). It consists of a series of questions to assess mental abilities. Each “yes” to a question will add to the score and increase the possibility of a dementia diagnosis.

There is no single definitive diagnostic test for dementia. Your doctor will make the diagnosis depending upon your medical history, cognitive assessment and the severity and frequency of the signs and symptoms.

The doctor, usually a neurologist, geriatrist or a GP, may then order a brain scan to confirm or rule out dementia. The brain scans involved are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan or positron emission tomography (PET).

To support the diagnosis, the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction must be present for at least six months. Cognitive impairment of short duration, i.e., lasting from hours to weeks, is called delirium which is different from dementia.

Diagnostic Criteria

The DSM-V criteria for Mild Neurocognitive Disorders include:

  1. A decline in cognitive functions, i.e., memory, learning, attention, language, and perception, from the previous level.
  2. The cognitive decline does not interfere in anyway with the routine capacity and independence of the individual.

Whereas impairment in any of the following domains is sufficient to qualify for Major Neurocognitive Disorders

  • Complex attention
  • Executive function
  • Learning & memory
  • Language
  • Perceptual-motor
  • Social cognition

Differential Diagnosis

The APA has outlined the differential diagnostic criteria for major and minor NCDs in DSM-V criteria.

Neurocognitive Disorders (NCDs) Due To Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

In order to qualify for mild NCD from TBI, the patient should have

  • Cognition between 3-16 percentile
  • Mild decline in cognitive functions

And at least one of the criteria:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Post-traumatic amnesia
  • Disorientation immediately after the event

For Major NCD due to Traumatic Brain Injury, the criteria include:

  • Cognition <3 percentile
  • Impaired functional independence

And at least one of the criteria:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Post-traumatic amnesia
  • Disorientation immediately after the event
  • Neurological or neuroimaging evidence
NCDs Due To Lewy Body Disease

Onset: Insidious

Symptoms

  • Altering cognitive functions, i.e., attention, alertness etc.
  • Well-formed visual hallucinations
  • Parkinson’s disease for 1 last year

Symptoms after cognitive impairment

  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder
  • Neuroleptic sensitivity
Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

Progression: Slow

Mild AD: One or more cognitive domains impaired plus intact Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Major AD: Two or more cognitive domains impaired plus intact Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Furthermore, there is a distinction between probable and possible AD based on the presence or absence of Alzheimer’s disease gene. Alzheimer’s disease gene can be diagnosed and identified from a positive family history or genetic testing.

For a probable AD, either of the two must be present:

  • AD genetic mutation, or
  • All three of the following:
  • Impairment in memory + one other domain
  • Progressive decline in cognitive functions
  • No other possible etiology

If the patient does not meet the probable AD criteria, “possible AD” is diagnosed.

What Are the Available Dementia Treatments?

Dementia caused by reversible medical conditions can be treated; the treatment can restore some, not all, mental functions. However, most of the time, dementia is caused by irreversible changes in the brain that cannot be treated.

When dementia is reversible, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Vitamins for vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Thyroid hormones for hypothyroidism
  • Antidepressants, if memory loss and other cognitive impairment is linked with depression
  • Antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS
  • Antibiotics to treat infection

If you are already on medicines that may be fogging your memory, your doctor may titrate the dose or stop the medication altogether.

Sometimes, you may need to undergo surgery to remove the tumor that might be interfering with your memory.

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Alzheimer’s Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions can provide symptomatic relief, i.e., improvement in cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

These interventions include:

Alzheimer’s Medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a number of medications to control the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. They can be broadly divided into two categories:

  1. Medications for Early to Moderate Stages – include cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne). Cholinesterase inhibitors prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine and delay worsening of symptoms for six to 12 months. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter linked closely with the memory and learning. These are generally well tolerated with few side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and frequent bowel movements.
  2. Medications for Moderate to Severe Stages – include memantine (Namenda) and donepezil (Aricept). Memantine regulates the activity of glutamate, a major excitatory neurotransmitter in brain involved in learning and memory. The drug also delays worsening of the symptoms temporarily.
Other Drug And Non-Drug Therapies

People with Alzheimer’s often have behavioral and sleep problems, both of which greatly affect the quality of life. The main cause of behavioral modification is the progressive decline of brain cells. Effective pharmacological therapy is available to counter the complications of Alzheimer’s such as:

  • Antidepressants and anxiolytics – for depression, agitation, anxiety and irritability
  • Sedatives – for sleep disorders. In Alzheimer’s, sleep-wake cycle is massively disturbed rendering the patient very drowsy during the day and awake at night.

Nondrug approaches to behavioral and sleep problems include:

  • Recognizing the person is not rude, but troubled.
  • Identifying the underlying cause and providing support.
  • Changing the environment to overcome challenges.
  • Encouraging following a healthy sleep pattern and maintaining physical activity.
  • Avoiding giving cholinesterase inhibitors just before bedtime.
  • Discouraging use of smartphone or watching TV just before or during bedtime.

Is Dementia Curable?

Treatment of dementia correlates with the cause; if the cause is reversible, dementia may be treatable. However, in most of the cases, the cause is irreversible making it extremely challenging for the doctors to cure the disease.

What makes dementia treatment tough is the lack of a clear understanding of the disease development. Research is underway to find answers to some of the most critical questions related to the debilitating illness.

Is It Possible To Prevent Dementia And Its Types?

There is no definitive cure for dementia particularly if it is of genetic origin, however, according to a study, adopting following measures can reduce your risk of developing the disease. You should:

  • Switch to Mediterranean diet. A healthy dietary habit prevents the risk of a number of diseases, including various types of dementia.
  • Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise of 30 minutes three to five times a week is beneficial.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Doctors recommend no more than two cups of alcohol per day in men; no more than one cup per day in women.
  • Take steps to prevent and manage diabetes, hypertension and obesity
  • Quit smoking. Alzheimer’s is more common among smokers.

 

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What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the normal age-related decline of cognitive functions and the grave impairment of dementia. MCI can manifest as mild impairment of memory, language and judgment. Though mild, the changes are greater than normal age-related changes.

Mild cognitive impairment can progress to dementia in most of the people, but some people may remain resilient.

Normal Memory Change Vs Dementia/Alzheimer’s

Forgetfulness is a common complaint among people, particularly the older adults. We all misplace keys, mobile phone, spectacles, and sometimes forget to recall names of the acquaintances. This is all normal.

Age-related memory forgetfulness is not disabling; dementia is. The age-related memory lapses have little impact on your ability to carry out routine activities, while dementia-related memory loss is related to persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as thinking, memory, language, and judgment.

How is Hollywood Helping Create Awareness about Alzheimer’s?

Hollywood, the mega film industry with billions of viewers, has an impact on daily life. People watch movies, closely notice and follow the message; and talk about them for days. From time to time, Hollywood touches topics that revolve around our lives, and focuses on the health problems affecting us, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.  Here are five memorable films on memory loss:

  1. On Golden Pond
  2. The Notebook
  3. Away from Her
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  5. Still Alice

Famous People With Dementia

You may find some solace in the fact that you or your loved one is not the only person fighting the degenerative disease. There are millions out there meeting the same fate as you; some dead; others determined to fight the disease. Even the sparkling Hollywood stars, the celebrities and the fearfully rich have not been spared by the disease. Some of the renowned names include:

  • Ronald Reagan – the 40th president of the United States fell off the horse in one of the trips to Mexico. He was diagnosed with a head concussion and a subdural hematoma, which, the doctors believed, led to the early onset of Alzheimer’s.
  • Charles Bronson – the macho man of Hollywood spent the last years of his life fighting Alzheimer’s.
  • Malcom Young – the legendary guitarist and the co-founder of rockband AC/DC – is currently fighting

Dementia Care — What To Expect

A diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is life-altering. Reading about the disease and living with the disease are two very separate things. You can gain sufficient knowledge about the disease as the first step; you can then decide what to do next as the disease progresses.

The stages of Alzheimer’s will give you an idea of what will happen at each step so that you can prepare yourself in advance and make necessary arrangements.

  • Mild Alzheimer’s disease – is the early stage. You will still be able to function independently, i.e., drive, work, and take part in social activities but you will have memory lapses. You will notice you have trouble coming up with the right word and that you are forgetting the names of things, places and acquaintances.
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s disease – is the middle, and typically the longest stage. It can last for years. At this stage, you will notice you are confusing words, getting angry and frustrated and having difficulty expressing your feelings. You may refuse to carry out normal activities, such as eating or bathing, or act in an irrational, and unexpected way. At this point, people around you will start noticing the symptoms.
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease – is the last and most painful stage. At this stage, you won’t be able to respond to the environment, carry a conversation or control movement. People on this stage require full-time assistance with personal care.

Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s has still not been identified, researchers believed genetics have a major role to play in the development of irreversible neurological damage. There are two types of genes categories that determine whether or not the person will develop the disease. Alzheimer’s genes are present in both.

  1. Risk Genes – increase the likelihood of a disease. Researchers have identified the risk gene linked closely with Alzheimer’s – apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4). Scientists believe that APOE-e4 may be the cause in 20-25% of patients.
  2. Deterministic Genes – cause the disease directly. Researchers have identified variations in the genes that account for Alzheimer’s disease. These gene encode three proteins, namely amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin-1 (PS-1) and presenilin-2 (PS-2); variations in which lead directly to Alzheimer’s.

 

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Is Alzheimer’s Related to Down Syndrome?

People with Down Syndrome have extra genetic material which increases their risk for certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, seizures, breathing problems, leukemia, and cardiovascular diseases.

HIV and Alzheimer’s – Is There Any Link?

AIDS is caused by the HIV which can attack your nervous system. A compromised nervous system may lead to the cognitive decline. Such people are at a heightened risk of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND).

What Are The Warning Signs Of Alzheimer’s?

Symptoms that should prompt a medical visit or consultation with your doctor include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts your daily life
  • Persistent trouble planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty performing routine tasks
  • Confusion with time, place or people
  • Trouble recognizing friends and family
  • Trouble speaking words
  • Misplacing things repetitively
  • Poor judgement
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irrational behavioral changes

What to Do If You Think Your Loved One Has Signs of Alzheimer’s

Immediately schedule a visit with a general physician. Depending upon the condition and suspecting disease, he or she may then refer  to the neurologist. An early diagnosis will help to control the disease symptoms. With proper treatment and supervision, you may be able to delay the disease worsening.

1. Can Champagne Improve Memory and Prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Studies have shown that the phenolic compounds present in champagne may boost memory. A moderate consumption of champagne i.e. one to three glasses per week, has the propensity to counteract the age-related memory loss.

2. Do Medicines Increase Risk of Dementia/Alzheimer’s

Following medicines are linked with a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia related neurodegenerative diseases:

  • Over-the-counter sleeping pills such as doxylamine (Nytol)
  • Allergy medications – such as Diphenhydramine (benadryl) and chlorphenamine (Piriton)

These drugs block the “cholinergic” or acetylcholine transmission in the nervous system leading to drowsiness, blurred vision and poor memory.

Another class of drugs called Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) [omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium) and lansoprazole (Prevacid)] can lead to dementia, particularly in patients aged 75 and above.

3. Can Exercise and Diet Help Prevent Dementia?

Unfortunately, you cannot escape dementia or Alzheimer’s, but there are a number of preventive measures you can take to reduce your likelihood of getting the disease. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet. There is evidence that adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduces risk of dementia.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: A healthy body mass index (BMI) wards off a number of illnesses, one of which is brain cell degeneration.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Stop drinking too much alcohol: Heavy drinking has a detrimental effect on brain function.
  • Quitting smoking (if you smoke).
  • Keeping your blood pressure in the normal range.

Caring for a loved one with dementia is not easy since it poses a plethora of challenges to the family and the caregiver. Dementia is a progressive brain disorder that makes it difficult for people to remember things, think rationally, communicate, or take care of themselves. Dementia even causes mood swings and can change a person’s personality and behavior.

As a caregiver, you should be mindful to:

  • Be positive – setting a positive mood is extremely important. Your attitude, tone and body language should reflect respect and attention to your loved one.
  • Limit distraction and noise in the surrounding while addressing the patient so that you will have their undivided attention.
  • Be patient. What you are up to is a task of mammoth proportion and requires perseverance and patience on your part.
  • Ask simple questions that can be answered easily. Remember the person with Alzheimer’s has difficulty constructing and reasoning words. Anything you say can confuse them.
  • Respond with affection and reassurance. The patient is already confused and unsure himself. You do not want to add to their problems. They need not know that they are wrong or have compromised mental abilities.
  • Use humor whenever possible, but not at the expense of the patient. You will be surprised how much it will relax your loved one.

Brain Challenging Games to Boost Memory

Numerous brain-training games can sharpen your brain and preserve your memory. Even the scientific research endorses the idea of brain-challenging games for people at risk for Alzheimer’s, however, there is no definitive evidence to claim their effectiveness.

Nonetheless, a little game harms no one. Checkout the appstore for latest brain-train games. To list out a few for you:

  • Lumosity – improves cognitive functions. It enhances focus and problem-solving skills. It is available on both iOS and Android play store.
  • Dakim – offers a set of more than 100 games and puzzles to give your brain a workout.
  • Clevermind – has especially been designed for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. It features brain exercises, medical and dietary tools for effective management of the disease.
  • Fit Brains Trainer – with an access to more than 360 games, Fit Brains Trainer enhances your focus, concentration and brain speed.
  • Brain Trainer – offers the largest collection of brain-train games, including language, mathematical, and shape games.

 

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Scientific Research — Is There Hope for Cure in Future?

Extensive research is going on in neurological sciences to find the exact cause of Alzheimer’s and devise an appropriate treatment. With new promising treatments emerging as of late, we may be close to finding dementia and Alzheimer’s cure.

  • In what was dubbed as a historical breakthrough, Researchers from Duke University, North Carolina USA, may have identified the cause of Alzheimer’s. In an experiment in mice, the researchers noticed that immune cells, that otherwise protect the body from external invasion, attack brain cells and begin to feed on the vital cellular ingredient, arginine. By blocking this process, the researchers were able to prevent plaque formation in the brain, which is considered the chief characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
  • Studies on mice have shown two already licensed drugs used for conditions other than dementia, can help restore protein production in the brain and prevent memory loss related to Alzheimer’s. The scientists have chosen not to name the drugs until the pathway is clearly established.
  • Australian researchers have successfully employed ultrasound technology in clearing the brain of structures, called neurotoxic amyloid plaques, responsible for a decline in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Vaccines for Alzheimer’s may soon be in the market. Experiments on mice have shown that the new vaccine not only stops the disease progress, but also repairs the existing damage. The vaccine, if proven successful in clinical trials, could be given to patients with a family history of Alzheimer’s.

Co-writer: Saira Zulfiqar

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