One of the first things people in Anamosa and elsewhere learn about Alzheimer’s disease is that it is a form of dementia. But what exactly is dementia? Are all types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease? Can they be cured before hospice care is needed?
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is familiar with Alzheimer’s disease and many common forms of dementia and is glad to assist families trying to learn more about what’s happening to a loved one’s physical and mental state.
Alzheimer’s disease has several key behaviors that distinguish it from other dementias, and some of the biggest is that it’s currently non-reversible and progressive.
This means that, although research continues to advance, and some studies have shown that it’s possible to delay the onset of some phases of the disease by making lifestyle changes, it’s still something that makes your mental and physical health decline over time, eventually leading to death.
How long this takes depends on the person and what’s happening in their body, and it could take 20 years, or it could also move quickly through the different stages.
Some forms of dementia are not that way. With certain medications, supplements, or dietary changes, some of them may be less severe or even go away altogether. It’s important to work with a primary provider who is familiar with the different types of dementia and some of the available treatment options for some of them to make sure you’re getting properly diagnosed and on an effective treatment plan.
Learn About Dementias
All general dementias involve mental problems that are large enough to interfere with daily activities and quality of life, such as forgetting tasks and procedures or not remembering past details. Memory, social abilities, and the general ability to think can all be affected.
Some specific symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to other types of dementia, are forgetting recent memories and events, including details that may have happened earlier that day or week. As the disease progresses and larger parts of the brain are affected, other memories are lost as well as important tasks, such as how to walk, recognize one’s surroundings, or what items in the house are food and what aren’t.
Part of the reason Alzheimer’s disease is usually looked at first when someone begins to show dementia-like symptoms is that it’s the most common type.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Alzheimer’s disease is believed to count for 60 to 80 percent of the dementia cases diagnosed.
In terms of actual numbers, the Alzheimer’s Association said there are about 6.5 million Americans with some stage of Alzheimer’s disease, as of 2022. Of these, 73 percent are at least age 75, and 1 in 9 are age 65 or older.
As many as 1 in 3 people with Alzheimer’s disease will die with it, and those with it at age 70 are more likely to die before they reach age 80 compared to those who don’t have it.
Alzheimer’s disease is more common in women than men, and Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have this than White Americans.
The number of Alzheimer’s disease cases is expected to grow significantly in the next few decades. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that numbers could double to 12.7 million, provided no significant medical discoveries occur in treatment or prevention. The CDC estimates this number can even grow to 14 million by 2060.
Researchers aren’t sure why, so it may be a combination of better and earlier diagnostic tools and more awareness, or possible unknown environmental factors.
Toward the “better diagnosis” argument, it’s certainly true that Alzheimer’s specialists are beginning to identify early changes in the brain in people in their 40s and 50s, compared to not being aware of anything out of the ordinary until someone begins to show symptoms in their 60s or 70s and the disease has progressed far enough that behaviors are noticeable.
Interestingly, while most types of dementia seem to increase as someone ages, dementia isn’t automatically something that happens as people get older.
And some symptoms like memory loss don’t necessarily have to mean you have dementia either. There could be other reasons for forgetting details such as forgetting your keys or not recognizing people’s faces, such as stress.
Most dementias lead to brain changes where cells begin dying or at least are unable to communicate. This leads to difficulty communicating and thinking.
Dementias can generally be caused by everything from trauma to the brain to certain illnesses to chemical changes. For instance, deficiencies of certain minerals or vitamins or even changes in the chemical makeup of the body, such as problems with the thyroid gland, can increase dementia symptoms.
It’s also possible to have dementia while having Alzheimer’s disease, such as vascular dementia which is linked to changes in blood flow to the body and brain.
November is a good time to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It’s officially Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, an opportunity for families to do more research and learn more about area resources.