Tuesday Tips for Caregivers ~ Defining Dementia
Dementia refers to any type of degenerative neurological disorder that degrades parts of the brain, impacting memory, language, speech, and a variety of other abilities. Some have argued that the term “dementia” is dated (and possibly insensitive) and we should instead use the phrase “degenerative neurological disorders.”
While we should move toward this usage, many healthcare professionals, researchers, and organizations rely on the term “dementia” enough that it warrants some explanation. Dementia does not refer to a specific disorder, but instead it encompasses a whole host of disorders. In this blog, we will describe some of the most common forms.
- Alzheimer’s disease: The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is associated with memory loss, problems with speech and language, and behavioral disorders. Its causes are associated with the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins (also called “plaques”) that build up in the brain, although researchers admit that there are multiple conditions and causes for Alzheimer’s like family history and genetics. These amyloid plaques contribute to the degeneration of neurons, leading to the various problems associated with Alzheimer’s.
- Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s leads to cognitive impairment, but this disorder is characterized by its impact on people’s motor functions, as well. For example, people may experience tremors in their hands, limb rigidity, problems with walking and balance, or slowness of movements. In Parkinson’s disease, protein deposits called Lewy bodies are usually present in the brain. Lewy bodies are also found in other forms of dementia.
- Vascular dementia: This form is caused by a lack of blood to the brain, which can be caused by a stroke or old age. These symptoms can come on suddenly or slowly, but they normally result in cognitive impairment like troubles with concentration.
- Mixed dementia: This is a form of dementia where there are at least more than one causes leading to brain degeneration. For example, the protein deposits common in Alzheimer’s disease can co-exist with Lewy bodies, or symptoms of Alzheimer’s can also be present alongside blood vessel problems associated with vascular dementia( brain damage caused by inadequate blood flow).
The only way you can be certain of what kind of dementia you or a loved one might be experiencing is to see your doctor. Remember, that symptoms of dementia does not always mean a degenerative neurological disorder exists. It is important to consult with trained professionals before drawing conclusions. Additionally, if a degenerative neurological disorder is to be suspected, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible is absolutely crucial. An early diagnosis can help patients slow down symptoms, find appropriate resources, and prepare for the future more effectively.