Alzheimer's and Dementia For Dummies
Whether you're new to caring for a person affected by Alzheimer's or dementia or just looking for some answers and relief on your journey, this is the trusted resource you'll turn to again and again.
Alzheimer's and Dementia For Dummies
An Overview of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
In This Chapter
Seeing the relationship between dementia and Alzheimer's disease
Understanding the link between age and dementia
Recognizing the four main types of dementia
If you're reading a book about dementia, you first need to understand what the term means. People have a whole lot of different ideas about what sort of condition the word dementia suggests. For some, it's the diagnostic label you give to people who keep having "senior moments" and regularly forget names and where they put their eyeglasses. To others, it refers to people who are old and confused and spend all day shouting at the television and letting their friends and neighbors know exactly what they think of them.
Although some of these symptoms clearly can be part of the picture of dementia, neither of the people described actually fit the diagnosis. The first is probably just forgetful but otherwise well, and the second may simply be grumpy and bad-tempered. Dementia has a very clear definition, and the diagnosis should never be made lightly.
This chapter looks in detail at what dementia is and what it certainly is not and serves a jumping-off point for what you can expect to face when your loved one receives a dementia or Alzheimer's disease (AD) diagnosis.
Defining the Relationship between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
This section explains what dementia is and isn't and then does the same for Alzheimer's. As you read this text, keep in mind the relationship between dementia and AD. In many cases, what we write about dementia applies to AD, but what we write about AD may not apply to dementia in all of its forms.
Understanding what dementia is
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability (including impaired memory, language, reasoning, judgment, visuospatial skills, and orientation) severe enough to interfere with daily life. Think of dementia as a big general category like the word "building." Just as there are many specific types of buildings (stores, houses, cabins, skyscrapers, factories, and so on), there are many specific forms of dementia. AD is the most common cause of dementia making up about 60 percent of dementia cases. We discuss other forms of dementia later in this chapter.
Dementia isn't a single entity. Multiple different medical conditions that affect normal brain functioning are causes of dementia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dementia thus:
[A] syndrome - usually of a chronic or progressive nature - in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. Consciousness is not affected. The impairment in cognitive function is commonly accompanied, and occasionally preceded, by deterioration in emotional control, social behavior, or motivation.
This definition, however, still contains a fair amount of medical jargon. So we try to come up with a simpler, but still accurate, version by considering each of the key terms used by the WHO:
Syndrome: This word describes the symptoms that together are characteristic of a particular medical condition. People with the condition have most of these symptoms but don't have to show all of them to receive the diagnosis. Thus with dementia, one person may have poor memory and language but still have judgment enough to not walk out into a busy road, whereas another may have problems with both memory and judgment but have no changes in language skills.
Chronic and progressive: These terms mean that the condition is on-going long term and gets steadily worse with time. Many people think that the word chronic means