Part 2 in Series
By CYD RIEDE
For The Vista
“Dementia” is an umbrella term describing a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain (called neurons) die or no longer function normally.
The death or malfunction of neurons causes changes in one’s memory, behavior and ability to think clearly.
In Alzheimer’s disease, these brain changes eventually impair an individual’s ability to carry out such basic bodily functions as walking and swallowing. Alzheimer’s disease is ultimately fatal.
Physicians often define dementia based on the criteria given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
To meet the criteria for dementia, the following are required:
• Symptoms must include decline in memory and in at least one of the following cognitive abilities:
1) Ability to speak coherently or understand spoken or written language.
2) Ability to recognize or identify objects, assuming intact sensory function.
3) Ability to perform motor activities, assuming intact motor abilities and sensory function and comprehension of the required task.
4) Ability to think abstractly, make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks.
• The decline in cognitive abilities must be severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s disease was first identified more than 100 years ago, but research into its symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment has gained momentum only in the last 30 years.
Although research has revealed a great deal about Alzheimer’s, the precise changes in the brain that trigger the development of Alzheimer’s, and the order in which they occur, largely remain unknown.
The only exceptions are certain rare, inherited forms of the disease caused by known genetic mutations.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Alzheimer’s disease affects people in different ways. The most common symptom pattern begins with a gradually worsening ability to remember new information. This occurs because the first neurons to die and malfunction are usually neurons in brain regions involved in forming new memories.
As neurons in other parts of the brain malfunction and die, individuals experience other difficulties.
Individuals progress from mild Alzheimer’s disease to moderate and severe disease at different rates. As the disease progresses, the individual’s cognitive and functional abilities decline.
In advanced Alzheimer’s, people need help with basic activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, eating and using the bathroom. Those in the final stages of the disease lose their ability to communicate, fail to recognize loved ones and become bed-bound and reliant on around-the-clock care.
When an individual has difficulty moving because of Alzheimer’s disease, they are more vulnerable to infections, including pneumonia (infection of the lungs). Alzheimer’s-related pneumonia is often a contributing factor to the death of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly made by an individual’s primary care physician.
The physician obtains a medical and family history, including psychiatric history and history of cognitive and behavioral changes. The physician also asks a family member or other person close to the individual to provide input.
In addition, the physician conducts cognitive tests and physical and neurologic examinations and may request that the individual undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
MRI scans can help identify brain changes, such as the presence of a tumor or evidence of a stroke, that could explain the individual’s symptoms.
• Raising Awareness and Supporting Alzheimer’s in Cumberland County
On Saturday, September 7, Alzheimer’s of Tennessee will hold the 2nd Annual Plateau Alzheimer’s Walk.
You can participate as an individual or a team/group. Note that all funds raised for this event directly support Alzheimer’s here in Cumberland County.
For more information view www.alztnevents.org or call Cyd Riede at 456-2122.
Look for additional articles on Alzheimer’s Disease to include: “Support Organizations”, Education & Caregiving”, “Treatment , Now and Future”.