Myths & Misconceptions of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are not the result of aging. They are disease processes that can effect anyone at any age. Though these two disease states normally occur in people over the age of 40, statistically, only 5 percent of persons over the age of 65 suffer severe intellectual impairment and only 10 percent are moderately impaired.

Benign Senescent Forgetfulness

BSF is the medical term for mild memory impairment that is associated with old age. This is due to decreases in circulating hormones and minor brain mass changes that are associated with the normal aging process. There is no functional decline with BSF and it will not progress to full blown dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease over time. The above changes do not even occur in some individuals who keep exercise and a good diet as important considerations in their life. Confusion in the elderly is always due to a disease process like Alzheimer’s disease or a chemical imbalance.

How to Recognize Alzheimer’s Disease

The earliest recorded age of diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease is a 28 year old women with Downs syndrome. It is not just a disease of the elderly even if up to 5 percent in this age group are impaired by this disease. Alzheimer’s disease is specific to changes in the brain. It is not curable or preventable. The common signs of this disease process is a buildup of senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Senile plaques are composed of terminal dendrites, the fibers connected to a nerve, in a matrix of starch like amyloid protein. These plaques are located between brain cells. The neurofibrillary tangles are fine, twisted nerve fibers inside the cell. The brain weight in advanced Alzheimer’s disease can decrease by as much as ten percent. Where brain weight is normally decreasing with age, in Alzheimer’s disease the loss of mass is located in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is responsible for short-term memory and emotional feelings.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The first sign and symptom of Alzheimer’s disease appears as a decline in mental and functional abilities that get worse over time. The amount of time it takes for this decline varies from person to person. Forgetfulness is first related to names of family and friends, bills that need to be paid, appointments, and things are misplaced. Depression and anxiety may accompany these functional deficits as an individual tries to compensate and rationalize disorientation and impaired judgement. Changes in mood, difficulties with task completion along with speech disturbances occur as the individual progresses to confusion. At this point atypical behavior like hoarding and hiding things may happen. As motor impairment begins along with difficulty swallowing, and seizure activity the individual will require terminal care and the family will need outside help to assist with care.

Other Reasons for Dementia

In the elderly population, dementia may present itself all of a sudden. In these cases, assume reversible causes of dementia and seek medical attention. Medications, poor nutrition, viruses, and alcohol are just a few of the possibilities. A thorough exam and appropriate corrective treatment will reverse what appears to be dementia to normal function.