Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are interrelated, and to know one, we need to understand the other.

Dementia is a syndrome where we typically observe loss of memory, inability to reason and to use logic, and some loss of verbal ability. Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain, a slow impairment due to which an individual suffers from memory loss and often forgets recent events and memories.

Alzheimer’s is a highly debilitating disease and is incurable. It is often seen in older people, but there’s no reason why someone middle-aged cannot get it. Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s occurs because of the build-up of a certain type of beta protein that kills neurons in the brain.

It is characterized by an inability to remember new events or form new memories. It often seems that the Alzheimer’s patient lives in the past and cannot make the connection between the past and the present.

Dementia is classified based on the parts of the brain that have been affected, and based on the severity, it may or may not be reversible.  Alzheimer’s Disease is classified as one type of dementia.  Actually, though, there are several different types of dementia.

Causes

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact causes of dementia, but it’s commonly understood that dementia that results from a stroke, head injury, drugs, nutritional deficiencies, or infections can be treated and reversed as well. However, it is not possible to reverse dementia that is caused by Alzheimer’s Disease, because the neurons that are destroyed cannot be revived.

We do know that dementia occurs when neurons die or when neurotransmitters stop working. What we don’t know is what causes the neurons to die and how exactly it happens.

Impact on Family

If someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is a rather tragic situation. They may not remember you or important events that have taken place since a certain point of time and may expect to be greeted by someone they knew who has passed away long ago. The world of the Alzheimer’s patient is terrifying. There is no sense of reality, and those who love them are often just vaguely familiar to them – sometimes not at all.

For the family caregivers of such patients, a disease like Alzheimer’s can be very demoralizing. Moreover, since there is no known cure, it seems like an impossible situation.  Often, patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s are handed over to skilled nursing facilities which might seem like the most viable option.

For the patient and for the family, it is a hard letting go. On one hand, it seems like a good idea because in a skilled nursing facility, there are dedicated, trained   staff who will ensure they take those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will have their needs attended to.  These staff members are often trained in how to handle the emotional and behavioral problems associated with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

It can be difficult for the family of an Alzheimer’s patient to keep them at home because of the various complications that might arise. Nevertheless, there are many people who are battling emotional and physical fatigue in order to make sure that their loved ones are cared for in a safe, familiar environment.

Treatment options

Since Alzheimer’s is not reversible, there is no way to make it go away entirely. However, researchers are working on medicines which can inhibit the progress of the disease. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between nerves.

In patients with Alzheimer’s, there is a breakdown of Acetylcholine which can cause a loss of important functions. One possible treatment of Alzheimer’s is using cholinesterase inhibitors, which prevent the breakdown of Acetylcholine.

For patients exhibiting symptoms of dementia that are not related to Alzheimer’s, there are better chances of treatment, and apart from medication, these patients can be treated through cognitive training and behavior modification.


References:

http://www.medicinenet.com/dementia/article.htm#tocb
http://www.medicinenet.com/alzheimers_disease_causes_stages_and_symptoms…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dementia