About Alzheimer and Dementia (Pikun)
The word dementia describes a series of symptoms, namely memory loss, difficulty thinking and problem solving and even language. Dementia occurs when the brain is damaged by illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes.
Dementia is a collective name for progressive brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion. There are more than 100 forms of dementia. Dementia is the leading cause of disability and dependency among the elderly. Each person will experience dementia in their own way. People living with dementia eventually become unable to care for themselves and they need help in all their daily life.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and was first described by the German doctor Alois Alzheimer. It destroys brain cells and nerves disrupting the transmitters which carry messages in the brain, particularly those responsible for storing memories. People with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty in memory and storing new information, but also speaking, thinking and making decisions.
Other common dementias are vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies and fronto-temporal dementia. More info on types of dementia can be read here: Types of dementia
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, gradually over time and causes more damaged parts of the brain. That’s why the symptoms that appear to be more severe.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
Recently some doctors have begun to use the term Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which is mild cognitive impairment when a person has difficulty remembering things or thinking clearly but the symptoms are not severe enough to lead to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have shown that people with MCI have an increased risk of developing into Alzheimer’s disease. However, an increase from MCI to Alzheimer’s is low (about 10% -20% annually) and consequently the diagnosis of MCI does not necessarily mean that the person will continue to develop into Alzheimer’s.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
So far, no one major factor has been identified as a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. It is likely that a combination of several factors affects such as age, genetic carrying, environmental factors, lifestyle and general health. In some people, the disease can develop quietly for years until symptoms develop.
Age: Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Dementia affects one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in six over the age of 80.
Genetic: We know that there are some families who clearly have a disease from one generation to the next. In the family, it is often the case that the disease appears relatively early.
In most cases, the effect of genes Alzheimer’s disease inherited by parents seems small. If a parent or other family member tends to be affected by Alzheimer’s, chances are your own Alzheimer’s disease is just a little bit higher than a person who does not have Alzheimer’s cases in his immediate family.
Environment: Environmental factors that may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease should still be identified.
Lifestyle: less sport, unhealthy food, less sleep, smoking and other bad habit can be a risk factor.
Others: Can be due to chromosomal differences, people with down syndrome have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
People who have severe head or neck injuries (whiplash injuries) also have an increased risk of developing dementia. The boxer who receives a constant blow to the head also has that risk.
Research also shows that people who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You can help reduce your risk by not smoking, eating a healthy balanced diet and checking your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly in middle age. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle and incorporating mental and social activities will also help.
Stages of Dementia
All types of dementia move progressively. This means that the brain’s chemical structure becomes increasingly damaged over time. A person’s ability to remember, understand, communicate and think gradually decreases.
How fast the development of dementia depends on the individual itself. Everyone is unique and has dementia in their own way.
How a person develops dementia depends on many factors, including physical conditions, emotional resilience and support for them. Seeing dementia as a series of stages can be a useful way to understand an illness but it is important to realize that it only provides rough guidance in viewing the development of the condition.