Is It Alzheimer’s?

Few diseases have the wrenching impact that Alzheimer’s does on both the patient and loved ones. Some memory decline with age is not necessarily Alzheimer’s, nor is every type of dementia Alzheimer’s. Knowing facts helps fight back fears.

Is all dementia Alzheimer’s?

With all of the public attention on the growing number of Alzheimer cases worldwide it can be easy to assume that if someone has dementia, it must be Alzheimer’s . But dementia is a term that covers a range of memory and cognitive decline symptoms of which Alzheimer’s Disease is but one possible cause.

According to Healthline, dementia is a syndrome, a set of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia. But there are other diseases that can cause dementia. One way to think of it is this: People with Alzheimer’s suffer from dementia, but not everyone who suffers from dementia has Alzheimer’s.

As an example: nauseousness is a symptom of several illnesses. But what illness caused it? Likewise dementia in a person is a symptom, but what disease caused it?

What other conditions cause dementia?

Over half of the cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. However, dementia can be caused by other diseases and conditions:

  • Lewy Body Dementia involves abnormal clumping of proteins in the brain known as Lewy Bodies. Symptoms include personality changes, REM sleep behavior disorder, visual hallucinations and fluctuations in blood pressure, heart and gastrointestinal function.
  • Vascular dementia is caused by high blood pressure and/or strokes. Blood flow impairment to the brain causes a progressive decline in cognitive skills.
  • Advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which is mostly associated with deteriorating motor skills, but can lead to dementia in the later stages.
  • Huntington’s Disease, characterized by jerky, uncoordinated movements and dementia as brain cells are destroyed.
  • Depression, chronic drug use and HIV can also cause dementia.

Distinguishing dementia symptoms

Most forms of dementia include memory and cognitive loss as well as difficulty communicating as patients forget words. Parkinson’s and Huntington’s are characterized by motor skill deterioration long before dementia occurs.

Alzheimer’s patients display other symptoms such as memory loss, struggling to remember a word, apathy, behavior changes, confusion, getting lost along normally familiar routes.

Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed with complete certainty while the patient is still living, although doctors can diagnosis it with up to 90 percent accuracy by evaluating symptoms and with scans. Having a doctor’s diagnosis is important not only to determine best treatment options, but also so that family members can know what they are facing.

Are “Senior Moments” early signs of Alzheimer’s?

Mild Cognitive Impairment presents as mild to moderate forgetfulness and diminished thinking skills and can be an early stage of Alzheimer’s. However, just because you can’t remember someone’s name or where you laid your glasses doesn’t mean it is early stage Alzheimer’s. Other symptoms would need to be present for that to be a concern.

Helpful tips to aid mild memory frustrations

For the mild, common “senior moment” frustrations, here are some memory aiding tips:

  • Keep a calendar/appointment system to remember meetings, doctor trips, birthdays and errands.
  • Put your keys, glasses and other commonly used objects in one place all the time. Don’t just lay them down wherever is handy. By having regular place you’ll relieve yourself of the frustration of hunting for them.
  • When you meet people, really listen to their name. Often our trouble remembering names is because we only half listen to them in the first place. Then, in conversation, repeat their name: “So, Brent, what sort of work do you do?” You can also notice some physical characteristic about them and connect it to the name:  Brent is really tall.

If you have reason for more concern

If memory and cognition issues seem to be worsening with time, such as increased inability to remember a word, getting lost along a familiar route and difficulty with remembering financial deadlines, get the person to a primary care physician for evaluation. The doctor can administer a test known as a Mini-Mental State Examination to begin the process of evaluation.

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