BRAIN: Don’t For­get Me

Un­der­stand­ing De­men­tia

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

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 brain­health­

---Regina Pos­var

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.

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