Dementia is broad term. It describes diseases that affect the brain, change how a person thinks, feels, responds to others, and remembers. Dementia usually develops slowly over time. One of the most common causes of dementia is the disease known as Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Researchers are still trying to understand what causes Alzheimer’s. The National Institute on Aging has some theories, based on what we can see in the brain. People who suffer from Alzheimer’s have “Amyloid Plaques” and “Neurofibrillary Tangles” in their brain.
Most of us a familiar with plaque on our teeth, that’s why we go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned. A plaque in the brain is similar to the plaque on our teeth because it is an abnormal buildup of material, but that’s where the similarity ends.
In the brain, researchers found that the plaque is made of a protein peptide called “Beta Amyloid”. In other words it’s a fragment of protein that has toxic properties and does not dissolve. People who have Alzheimer’s have more amyloid plaques in their brains, than people who do not. Science is still trying to understand why.
Another thing researchers have observed in Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of something called Neurofibrillary Tangles. These tangles According to the National Institute on Aging “are abnormal collections of twisted protein threads found inside nerve cells.”
These tangles inside the nerve cells can damage the nerve’s ability to send messages. When that is damaged, then normal brain function is directly affected.
Once communication pathways between cells are no longer functioning correctly, the brain stops working properly. It is no longer able to recall information or motivate the right types of behavior.
Symptoms and Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s the symptoms may be mild, and associated with normal age related changes such as minor memory loss or a reduced ability to focus on finishing a task.
Mild Alzheimer’s is characterized by these symptoms:
Getting lost in places that should be familiar
Taking a much longer time for activities that used seem easier to accomplish
Loss of memory
Feeling anxious or angry
Not considering the consequences of various decisions
Forgetting to pay bills and no longer managing money appropriately
As the disease progresses these symptoms become more pronounced and the following new symptoms develop:
Delusions and paranoid hallucinations
No longer recognizing friends and family
Acting in appropriately and not controlling impulses
Inability to read or write
Inability to complete a task, such as getting dressed or making breakfast
Become overwhelmed in new situations or around new people
Wandering, feeling restless, crying
Repeating the same thing
In late stage Alzheimer’s most independent functioning is gone. At this point the following signs can be seen:
Long bouts of sleeping
Loss of bowel and bladder control
Inability to eat or swallow
At this time there is no treatment for Alzheimer’s. If someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s it’s important to talk to the primary care provider and consider the resources needed for care. Family members are often involved in the care of a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s and this can be very stressful.
There are some great resources available to help:
National Institute on Aging:
The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) has free information on all aspects of Alzheimer’s disease, research, current clinical trials and the specific needs of caregivers. You can find this information here:
You can also call
The Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association states that it “works on a global, national and local level to enhance care and support for all those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. We are here to help.” They provide a variety of resources and publications on their website which you can find here.
You can also call them directly at
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
This resource provides a wide variety of information and recommendations for individuals living with or around Alzheimer’s. Their website is here
And you can all them directly at
The National Institute on Aging Information Center
This is a public organization (supported by tax dollars) that provides extensive research and resources about the aging process. This includes Alzheimer’s and other dementias. You can locate their website here
or call them directly here
While Alzheimer’s may be the most common cause of dementia, there are many other brain related changes that can lead to dementia.
When the brain does not receive adequate blood flow, brain tissue dies. This changes how the brain is able to communicate information. When parts of the brain are no longer functioning properly due to cell death, there may be changes in memory, behavior and mood.
Vascular dementia often happens as a result of a stroke.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy Body Dementia is mostly found in individuals who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. People who suffer from this type of dementia often have visual hallucinations. They are not necessarily frightening hallucinations, but very clear images of people, animals or events may play out in these individuals’ minds.
A “lewy body” is a clump of protein found in the neurons.
The front of the brain, right behind the forehead, is called the frontal lobe. The sides of the brain are called the temporal lobes. In front-temporal dementia the nerves in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain die off. There seems to be a strong genetic component to this type of dementia, meaning it runs in families.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
[fact check http://www.alzheimers.gov/symptoms.html%5D