Sunday, May 3, 2009

Understanding Dementia

I continuously see a lack of understanding about Dementia. People often use Alzheimer’s and Dementia interchangeably as if the only cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s. I would like to clarify what dementia is, and its causes.

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. There are two main causes of non-reversible dementia, Alzheimer’s and Vascular. Alzheimer’s is from plaques (proteins) that form between nerve cells in the brain, and tangles, which are proteins twisted up and forming inside dying cells. It is believed that these plaques and tangles interfere with nerve pathways resulting in Dementia. Vascular dementia occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, usually by a stroke. Strokes are from a blood clot or bleed in the brain. Blood flow to brain tissue is interrupted, resulting in dying brain tissue. This is how vascular dementia forms. Simply Alzheimer’s is nerve related, and Vascular is blood vessel related.

You may have heard of Lewy Body Dementia. Patients with LBD have abnormal protein structures in the brain. It still isn’t clear whether LBD is a form of Alzheimer’s or a separate disease, but it is the leading cause of dementia in elderly adults.

There are also treatable causes of dementia. Those causes include brain tumors, infections, low Vitamin B 12 levels, normal pressure hydrocephalus (an increase of spinal fluid in the brain), thyroid conditions, and metabolic disorders. Metabolic disorders can include endocrine disorders such as Addison’s disease, Cushings disease, or the complicities of diabetes, as well as electrolyte conditions, liver and kidney complications.

Alzheimer’s has no definitive diagnostic test. It is usually diagnosed after all other possible causes of dementia have been ruled out. That is why it is extremely important to get a comprehensive exam, preferably by a gerontologist, to determine the cause. Geriatric patient’s need to see a specialist in geriatric medicine, because seniors react differently to illnesses, and medications than their younger counterparts. For instance, a urinary tract infection, which is prevalent in the senior population, can cause confusion, and falls. This is not the case in a younger patient.

For anyone providing care for a family member with dementia, it is imperative you seek appropriate healthcare, educate yourself in the disease, the cause, and techniques to help the person suffering from this devastating illness. Caring for a family member with dementia is difficult and stressful, but there is help available. Support groups can be helpful. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource providing education, resources, and support Obtaining respite to relieve the stress and pressure is extremely helpful. Visiting Angels provides respite for thousands of families across the US. We are partnered with the Alzheimer’s Foundation, and provide Alzheimer’s and Dementia training for our staff. To find an office near you

Taking care of yourself is extremely important when caring for a loved one. Recognize you don’t need to try and do it all. Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope to seek help. You jeopardize your health and your loved one’s well being when your patience is at its limit. Praise yourself for taking on this very difficult care, and don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do. Every situation is unique, and must be treated as such. Look for the blessings in providing care for a loved one, and remember every time you look at them that this is an illness like any other significant and chronic illness. It can happen to anyone.

1 comment:

  1. I'll link my blog to your blog for this wonderful post.
    I just heard a similar discussion at a Senior Center for a Wellness Month program that the White Plains Hospital sponsored. This information needs to get out there. The audience needed to know these things and reading it slowly helps people digest it all better. Thanks.


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