The D Word

D.e.m.e.n.t.i.a is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. In the simplest terms, Dementia is a non-reversible decline in mental function.  People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood. Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.

The terms “Dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of Dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types.
The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and Frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.  A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example - knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant.

How is it diagnosed?

Dementia: A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline. These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges. In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.
Alzheimer's: There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities. For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on evualations. This so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85% & 90% of the time. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.

"Ageism is some form of prejudice" according to Ashton Applewhite and you should take a listen.
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory difficulties or other changes in thinking skills, don't ignore them. See a doctor soon to determine the cause. Early diagnosis allows a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments, and provides an opportunity to volunteer for clinical trials or studies. It also provides time to plan for the future.  This "D Word" affects us all in one way or another, and the more we know, the better off we all are.

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