What Is Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia?
Dementia is defined as loss of memory and cognitive skills, making daily activities difficult or even impossible to perform. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease typically sets in after age 65, though it affects 200,000 younger Americans every year. It impairs a person’s ability to learn new things and to reinforce old memories, and is known for causing confusion, forgetfulness and behavioral changes. Alzheimer’s grows worse over time and is considered the sixth-leading cause of death in America.
Though the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease doubles after age 65, suffering from any sort of dementia is not a normal aspect of aging. Certain individuals are more prone to experience some sort of dementia based on a number of factors that impact brain health, including diabetes, high blood pressure, too much alcohol and smoking, and head trauma at a young age.
Injury and disease of the brain - specifically the cerebral cortex - cause dementia, but the results are not immediately obvious. Over time a number of signs can be seen, including the following:
- Forgetfulness — Usually patients do not retain new memories or cannot learn new things. They forget information recently learned and gradually lose the old information like events, birthdays and anniversaries.
- Confusion — Those with Alzheimer’s may forget where they are, how they got there, or what time or day it is.
- Judgment problems — This may, for example, result in getting scammed out of money regularly or a sudden lack of attention to personal hygiene.
- Mood changes — An otherwise happy person may turn moody, angry or suspicious without cause, particularly in the evenings.
- Perception problems — Vision changes make it difficult to judge distance, decipher colors and read.
- Speech and language problems — Conversations become very thin and speech becomes very sparse.
Presently, there is no cure for any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. However, ongoing research, including that taking place at the Alzheimer’s Center at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, holds promise to improve life for those with various dementias and hopefully one day offer a cure. Treatment options currently available include:
- Medication — A number of medications are used to provide symptomatic relief and to slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s. These medications do not cure dementia.
- Environment control — Much of the treatment for dementia sufferers involves helping them enjoy life and stay relaxed. To do this, maintain a comfortable room temperature, avoid stressful and noisy situations, gently redirect angry outbursts and don’t engage in confrontational conversations.
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