Editor’s note: Below is a list of questions and answers about dementia-like symptoms and Alzheimer’s disease. Answers are based on reports from the Alzheimer’s Association, a 35-year-old global, national and local volunteer organization to lead efforts in care, research and support. For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association, visit alz.org.
Q: What is dementia?
A: Dementia is not a specific disease, but an overall term for a loss in a person’s core mental abilities, including memory, communication, reasoning, visual perception and attentiveness.
Q: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
A: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for between 50 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s symptoms develop slowly, getting worse over time.
Q: What are the dementia-like symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
A: Alzheimer’s usually begins to change the part of the brain that affects learning, making difficulty remembering new information the most common early symptom of the disease. Moving throughout the brain, Alzheimer’s progressively cripples a person. Severe symptoms include disorientation and deep confusion, changes in behavior,
unfounded suspicions about family, friends and caregivers and more serious memory loss.
Q: Are there any physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
A: Yes, a person’s physical capabilities can be inhibited as Alzheimer’s moves to kill off communication from brain cell to brain cell. A person’s visual perception, speech, writing, swallowing and walking abilities can be affected.
Q: When do these dementia-like symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur?
A: Age is not strictly associated with developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but it is the greatest known risk factor with a majority of people older than 65 years old. Alzheimer’s can still strike down people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, which is known as early onset Alzheimer’s.
Q: Is Alzheimer’s a normal part of aging?
A: No, but it’s normal to have occasional memory problems like forgetting the name of someone you’ve recently met. Forgetting the name of a direct relative or long-time friend can be a sign of dementia-like symptoms. Certain prescriptions also have memory loss as a side effects.
Q: Are there any neurological signs or connections to Alzheimer’s?
A: Scientists have yet to pinpoint an exact neurological cause for Alzheimer’s, but two forms of protein — plaques and tangles — building up between brain cells have been seen as drivers of the disease. Most people develop plaques with tangles, but those with Alzheimer’s develop more.
Q: Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s?
A: Right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Since Alzheimer’s ultimately destroys brain cells, it has no survivors. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. — and increasing — estimated to take the lives
of 700,000 people older than 65 in 2015.
Q: Are there ways to prevent Alzheimer’s?
A: Studies by experts with the Alzheimer’s Association are focusing attention on the importance of mental and physical fitness, diet and positive lifestyle. Age and genetics cannot be changed, but more exercise can directly increase oxygen and blood flow to brain cells. A heart-healthy diet can ease strain on the heart, reducing chances of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular risks that have been
linked to dementia-like symptoms.