THE NUMBER 1 QUESTION: What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
A: Dementia is the symptom of diseases such as vascular dementia, Lewy bodies with dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with dementia, it means doctors have not found the specific disease causing your dementia. It is the umbrella term for many neurodegenerative diseases.
Dementia is far-reaching. “As of 2013, there were an estimated 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide,” Alzheimer’s Disease International reports. “This number will increase to an estimated 75.6 million in 2030, and 135.5 million in 2050. Much of the increase will be in developing countries. Already 62% of people with dementia are living in developing countries, but by 2050, this will rise to 71%.”
Alzheimer’s is the largest of all the dementias. It is a neurodegenerative progressive disease that affects memory, thinking, emotion and behavior. It is relentless and fatal. Scientists do not know the exact cause, but they do know what is happening to the brain.
At this time, scientists know that two abnormal protein fragments known as plaques and tangles accumulate and kill brain cells over several years, starting in the hippocampus part of the brain where memory is first formed and then gradually spreading throughout the brain. A simple recollection that we take for granted is just not there. This spreading is the different stages of Alzheimer’s.
The next place these plaques and tangles attack is the part of the brain that controls language, where it gets harder and harder to find that word. Then it moves to the part that controls logic, where solving problems and planning things are hard to do. Next, it reaches the area that regulates emotions. Personality changes are seen here. It then moves to the part of the brain that makes sense of things you see, smell, hear and feel. This can cause havoc on a person’s brain and can spark hallucinations.
Eventually, it reaches the back of the brain where the oldest and most precious memories are erased. Near the end, it kills the part of the brain that regulates balance and coordination. And finally, it kills the part that regulates the heart and lungs.
Joining together with your family, friends and neighbours to better understand Alzheimer’s will reduce stigma, and improve care.
Early detection of memory and thinking problems really matters if you want to preserve anything about who you are in the future, or if you want to help the people you love maintain who they are for as long as they live. So often, I hear people complain about their memory or about someone they love, and I am always prompted to ask, “What do you think is causing it?” About eight out of 10 times, I will receive a response along these lines: “Oh, I just have so much work to do, and I’m so stressed; it is just my stress” or “My dad is getting old. I think he is getting that Alzheimer’s.” These are common replies with the implication that this is just part of life and we need to just deal with it.
My suggestion to see a doctor and have a blood test run to eliminate the possibilities of other illnesses or vitamin deficiencies that may reverse the symptoms when treated comes as a surprise to many people. Alzheimer’s is not a part of normal aging. There are many illnesses that mimic memory loss and thinking problems, such as vitamin B12, D3 or sodium deficiencies and thyroid conditions. These are treatable deficiencies, and the symptoms can be reversed. The problem is that many of us walk around and don’t know we have them. The longer they go untreated, the higher your risk for developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
Q: What should I do if my test results are normal?
A: Take a self-memory test, date it and retake in three months after you have started with exercise to inprove your memory. If after six months you do not see any improvement or it is the same, then take these results to your doctor or a neurologist for more extensive testing. Get a consultation first, so you know what all your options are. For a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, you have to have two parts of your brain dying.
Q: My doctor says my memory problems are from stress. What do I do about it?
A: Identify where the stress is coming from, and make a list of things you can do to decrease it. If this is too challenging, treat yourself by asking for help from a trusted source and/or a professional. Stress is 80% of all illness and diseases.
Tip:Sometimes it is wise to change your perspective on a situation in order to decrease your stress.
Next week: Recognizing warning signs
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