Is It Really Alzheimer’s Disease? Other Forms of Dementia May Be Less Common but They Are Still Devastating
We just discovered a provocative news article from National Public Radio that sheds some important light on the increasing problem of cognitive decline. “In the U.S.,” NPR reports, “older people with dementia are usually told they have Alzheimer’s disease. But a range of other brain diseases can also impair thinking and memory and judgment.” That’s according to scientists attending a dementia summit very recently at the National Institutes of Health.
You’ll find a link to the NPR article here. “Is it Alzheimer’s or another dementia?” the title asks. “The right answer matters.”
Other Forms of Dementia: Doctors are Gaining More Understanding
Researchers are gaining new and deeper understanding of what goes on in the brain of someone with dementia, and they are also learning not to jump to the conclusion that it’s always Alzheimer’s disease. According to the NPR report, “The emphasis on non-Alzheimer’s dementias reflects a change in doctors’ understanding of what happens to aging brains.” As one doctor put it, when she was undergoing training two or three decades ago, diagnosis was simple: “We were taught that almost all dementia is Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. But doctors now know that 20 to 40 percent of the nation’s 5.8 million dementia patients have some other disease. Research from the Alzheimer’s Association shows that some of the most common non-Alzheimer’s causes of dementia are:
- Stroke or blood vessel damage caused by vascular disease, which accounts for up to 10 percent of all dementia cases.
- Lewy body disease, which is related to Parkinson’s disease and which also accounts for up to 10 percent of dementia patients.
- A condition called “frontotemporal lobar degeneration,” in which affects areas of the brain involved in personality, language and behavior start to degenerate. This condition is estimated to account for somewhat fewer than 10 percent of dementia cases.
The only one that doctors say can be prevented is strokes, which is significant because as many as one-third of stroke sufferers eventually develop dementia. Controlling blood pressure and making other lifestyle changes reduces the risk of vascular disease. But the other conditions have no cure, even though some of the symptoms can be treated, at least for a time.
Other Forms of Dementia: Lewy Body Affects 1.4 Million Sufferers
As the NPR report got into the subject of Lewy body dementia, it reminded us of this article from the AgingOptions blog back in March 2017. We described the illness then as a less common form of dementia that in many ways mimics Alzheimer’s disease and is often mistaken for it. Lewy body dementia is sort of a lesser-known cousin of Alzheimer’s disease, afflicting an estimated 1.4 million Americans with an odd array of symptoms. But because Lewy body dementia responds differently from Alzheimer’s disease to commonly prescribed medications, getting a correct diagnosis is important. Most of the information from our blog post came from this 2017 article on the website of the Mayo Clinic.
Lewy body dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, is a brain disease that gets progressively worse over time. It’s characterized by an abnormal protein, called synuclein, that becomes deposited in nerve cells and affects nerve processes. These deposits are called “Lewy bodies,” named after the physician who first identified them. The Mayo Clinic article explains that Lewy bodies are found deep in the parts of the brain that control movement, emotion, behavior, judgment and awareness. The disease progresses over several years but the effects can vary greatly from patient to patient. Some have typical Alzheimer’s symptoms – memory loss and difficulty with names and places. Others experience Parkinson’s-like tremors. But one of the major distinctions of Lewy body dementia among some sufferers is the early onset of hallucinations, often within the first year after diagnosis.
Is there any good news in all this? Not yet. At present there is no known cure and no approved therapies in the U.S. or Europe, although clinical trials are ongoing. Still, because Lewy body dementia presents such an array of symptoms, correct diagnosis is imperative: for example, says one Mayo Clinic physician, “In people who have Lewy body dementia, medications to improve motor function may make symptoms such as hallucinations worse, and medications used to combat dementia may increase [Parkinson’s-like symptoms].” In our mind a treatment is suspect if it causes more problems than it solves.
Other Forms of Dementia: the Right Doctor, the Right Plan
Whether you or a loved one are facing dementia or simply trying to plan for your health care needs as you age, we hope you’ll call us here at AgingOptions and allow us to refer you to a geriatric physician – a geriatrician – in your area. This is the health care professional you need to see, a doctor who understands the particular physical and emotional needs of aging patients. As for the rest of your retirement planning, we can help you there as well by showing you how all the facets of your retirement plan fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Along with your medical needs – helping you preserve your health – you need to take your housing desires into account, to make certain you’re living in the environment that’s right for you. In retirement, your finances will play a pivotal role, as will your legal affairs. Finally, unless your family is aware and supportive of your retirement plans, you could be heading for major family conflict in the future. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the one plan we know of that blends all these elements together: financial, legal, medical, housing and family.
If you’re ready to learn more, why not take a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars? There’s no obligation whatsoever – just bring your questions and prepare to have your eyes opened about a new approach to retirement security. For all the details, visit our Live Events page, or call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. We hope to see you very soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.npr.org and http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org)