BRAIN: Don’t Forget Me
Brain health is a rising concern for many older persons as the risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia increases dramatically after 65 years of age. The health of family and professional caregivers is also in jeopardy when caring for someone with dementia when they have little to no support. Newer evidence shows that plaques and tangles (hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease) are found as early as 18 years prior to showing any signs of cognitive impairment. This means the brain is affected as early as the 40s and 50s if the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is in the 60s. There have also been rising cases of developing the disease in the early 40s meaning that the brain was affected in the 20s.
With this said, prevention of risk factors is a must as early as possible. No one can stop getting older, but age does not guarantee that dementia will develop. People can, however, reduce known risk factors. But first it’s important to understand dementia. Let’s start with the basics. What is dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome and a collection of symptoms that affect the memory, thinking and ability to complete everyday tasks that most people take for granted. However, there is no test to specifically diagnose dementia. A health provider will take several tests and if other illnesses are ruled out and it’s discovered that there are at least two parts dying in the brain with no cause, the diagnosis would be unspecified dementia. It is important to know that receiving a diagnosis of dementia should not be a one-time doctor visit that results in a list of prescriptions. If this happens, it is advised to get a second opinion or go to a specialist.
It is safe to say that a person with Alzheimer’s disease also has dementia, but what is commonly misconceived is that if a person has dementia, they also have Alzheimer’s disease. If someone is only diagnosed with dementia, it is unspecified meaning the health provider cannot determine the type or cause of the dementia.
Dementia is like a basket of fruits and vegetables: The basket is dementia, the vegetables are the conditions caused by the neurodegenerative disease (dying neuron cells), and the fruit are the conditions that look like dementia (depression, or vitamin deficiency), only they can be cured or reversed. The basket, or dementia, holds it all.
Another way to understand dementia is to see it as an umbrella term to describe neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body, Parkinson disease, Vascular Dementia and many others. These conditions are debilitating, incurable and result in progressive degeneration of nerve cell death.
Pseudodementia can be placed under the same umbrella, which is depression with a cognitive impairment with symptoms of dementia. These dementia symptoms can be reversed if early detection is found.
It is important to understand the difference in conditions because the treatments are critically different, especially when prescribing medication. There are associations for different types of dementia and their research shows that the common types of medication used can result in death when misused.
The St. Lucia Alzheimer’s Association encourages readers to share your caregiving challenges with the association for professional recommendations and tips to help you understand Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, caregiving concerns, and brain health questions. You can also share your tips to help another family.
For more information please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Regina Posvar is the current president of the St. Lucia Alzheimer’s and Dementia Association and has been a licensed nurse for 25 years. SLADA is supported by volunteers and donations, and aims to bring awareness and support by providing awareness public workshops, family support, memory screenings, the Memory Café, counselling and family training for coping skills and communication with persons living with dementia.