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April 2020

Bringing Dementia out of the Shadows

Up to half of people ages 85 and older may have some form of dementia. Yet this condition has long been misunderstood.

For example, many believe that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the same thing. That’s not the case. Dementia is a general term for a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning that makes daily life difficult. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that is the most common cause of dementia.

Several people also believe that dementia is a normal part of aging. That isn’t true, either. A healthcare provider should evaluate serious memory loss and impaired thinking at any age.

Fortunately, science can help dispel harmful myths and promote better care for people with dementia. Thanks to research and medical technology, we’re constantly learning more about this condition.

Understanding the causes

Historically, the inner workings of the brain have been cloaked in mystery. But this is starting to change. There are different types of dementia caused by different issues inside the brain. Today, doctors have more tools to help them identify the various types of dementia with greater precision than in the past.

In Alzheimer’s and several other neurodegenerative diseases, certain proteins clump together and damage healthy brain cells. Over time, the brain cells stop working and die. In vascular dementia, blocked blood vessels deprive brain cells of the oxygen they need survive. Some people have more than one cause for their dementia.

Customizing the treatment

There’s no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. But there’s a lot that can improve the lives of people with these conditions.

For example, research shows that people with dementia benefit from person-centered care. This approach to managing the disease stresses:

  • Individualizing care for the person with dementia

  • Helping the person engage in meaningful activities

  • Prioritizing emotional well-being and quality of life

  • Building a positive relationship with care providers

Keep in mind

Depression, medicine side effects, and vitamin deficiencies can cause dementia-like symptoms. In these cases, when the underlying condition is treated, the symptoms may go away.

If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, consult a healthcare provider. An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward getting the right treatment.

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2020
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