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Learn about Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a general term that collectively describes a variety of symptoms that are associated with declining memory, impaired communication skills, and the deterioration of other cognitive skills. Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of dementia, but it is not the only reason why people experience these distressing life-changing symptoms. Dementia can also result from stroke, thyroid problems, and even certain vitamin deficiencies. Depending upon the cause of the dementia, the symptoms may or may not be reversible. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, certain forms of treatment have proved successful in delaying or slowing the onset of symptoms of dementia, but researchers have not yet discovered a way to either stop or reverse them.
Symptoms of dementia, especially when they are the result of Alzheimer’s disease, typically reveal themselves gradually, building in intensity in the later stages of the disease. For example, a person who is in the first of the three phases of Alzheimer’s disease may experience mild symptoms such as occasional forgetfulness for as long as 20 years before he or she is diagnosed with the condition. During the middle and late stages of the condition, though, the symptoms of dementia will cause progressively greater problems, with the individual eventually experiencing profound deficiencies in awareness, communication skills, and the ability to care for himself or herself.
Dementia most commonly occurs in older adults, but the significant decline in memory, communication, and other cognitive abilities that is associated with dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Also, though Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are more common among older adults, this does not mean that younger people are immune to these problems. As discussed in the Statistics section below, individuals below the age of 65 can struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Regardless of the age at which a person begins to experience symptoms of dementia from Alzheimer’s disease or another cause, treatment can have a beneficial impact. Advantages of receiving effective professional care for symptoms of dementia include diagnosing the cause of the symptoms, delaying their progression, learning how best to manage the symptoms, and developing a comprehensive support network to retain the greatest quality of life for the longest period of time.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 47 million people are currently living with dementia. WHO also reports that 58% of those who have dementia live in low- or middle-income nations. The Alzheimer’s Association has reported that about 5.4 million people in the United States, including one of every nine adults age 65 and above, have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the nation’s fifth-leading cause of death. More than 200,000 adults under the age of 65 also have dementia that has been caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is more common among women than among men, with women constituting nearly two-thirds of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association also notes that the national economic impact of Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia is more than $235 billion every year.
Causes and Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Causes of Dementia
Dementia can result from a variety of causes, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. The following are among the many factors that can influence a person’s susceptibility to developing dementia.
Genetic: People with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease are at an increased risk for also developing the disease. Researchers have identified two types of genes that appear to influence whether or not a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Environmental: A person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading cause of dementia, may also be influenced by various environmental causes. For example, experiencing head trauma can raise a person’s risk of having both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Other environmental causes include smoking, poor diet, and other actions that contribute to hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol, all of which have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Age (one in nine people over age 65 and one in three over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease symptoms)
- High blood pressure
- Hearth disease
- High cholesterol
- Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
- Head trauma
Causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s
The following are among the most common indicators that a person has developed Alzheimer’s disease or is experiencing dementia from another cause:
- Problems following instructions
- Often losing or misplacing items
- Problems with social interaction
- Communication difficulties
- Making delusional statements or accusations
- Requiring assistance with daily activities
- Easily becoming lost, getting confused about location in familiar places
- Difficulty discerning time and dates
- Diminished motor functions
- Disrupted eating habits
- Poor nutrition from poor dietary care
- Muscle weakness
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
- Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
- Tics and tremors
- Diminished processing speed
- Loss of ability to recognize objects or faces
- Disorientation and confusion
- Hallucinations and/or delusions
- Memory lapses and memory loss
- Impaired judgment
- Inability to focus and/or concentrate
- Agitation, irritation, and frustration
- Pervasive sadness
- Unexplainable anger
- Extreme mood swings
- Suicidal ideation
Effects of Alzheimer’s
If not properly addressed, Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia can lead to several negative effects and outcomes, including the following. Depending upon the cause of the dementia, treatment may be able to delay but not prevent certain outcomes.
- Sense of isolation
- Profound disorientation
- Disintegration of personality
- Permanent memory loss
- Diminished or lost ability to communicate
- Diminished or lost ability to tend to one’s nutrition and hygiene needs
- Loss of independent functioning
Alzheimer’s and co-occurring disorders
Men and women who develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or another cause may also be at an increased risk for the following co-occurring mental health disorders:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders