Specific Conditions

There are many conditions that can affect our cognitive abilities and skills. To reduce confusion around the terms used to describe these conditions, we are providing the information below:

Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common cause of dementia; currently four million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. At present, there is no clinical test to identify Alzheimer’s, but recent advances have enabled health care professionals to recognize alterations in brain tissue and activity as well as identify certain patterns of behavior that often suggest  symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which is often described in stages—early, middle, and late. There is no cure, but there are medications available which work to slow the disease and assist individuals in maintaining their current level of functioning for longer periods of time. For more information on current research and medications please visit: www.alz.org or www.mayoclinic.com

Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease*

  • Recent memory loss (short-term memory loss)
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation of time and place
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Misplacing things
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative

*Developed and reproduced with permission of the Alzheimer’s Association

Dementia

Those with significant memory loss may have a condition known as dementia—not a disease, but a group of symptoms that include memory loss, confusion and a decrease in cognitive skills such as judgment, problem-solving and decision-making. Symptoms must be consistent and severe enough to affect day-to-day functioning to be considered dementia. There are a number of different conditions and diseases that can cause dementia.

Other conditions that can cause dementia:

  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • AIDS
  • Prolonged kidney dialysis

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is a group of brain disorders (formerly known as Pick’s Disease) that affect the frontal and temporal (side) lobes of the brain.  Disorders that cause frontotemporal degeneration are progressive in nature. They account for 10-15% of all dementia diagnoses. 

Frontotemporal Lobe Dementias are caused by an abnormal collection of proteins in the brain. As these proteins collect, they begin to deprive brain cells of nutrients and cause brain cells to die. The death of these brain cells can lead to changes in thinking/cognitive skills.

Initial symptoms are often noted between the ages of 50 and 60. Unlike Alzheimer’s Disease where the first symptom usually noted is memory loss, personality changes are often reported such as mood swings, increased irritability, loss of inhibition and decreased social boundaries.  In addition, pronounced and rapid loss of language skills may be noted, such as having trouble thinking of and using words appropriately or understanding spoken and written language.

To confirm a diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia, a physician will rely on numerous medical evaluations (including blood work, brain imaging and functional/cognitive evaluations) and an in-depth history.  In order to make a diagnosis, it is important for the physician to establish which symptoms occurred first accompanied by a timeline/duration of symptoms.

For more information visit The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration website: www.theaftd.org

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia is estimated to affect 1.3 million individuals and is the third most common cause of dementia. A progressive neurological disease, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed because symptoms fluctuate and vary from person to person. 

Lewy Body Dementia is similar to Parkinson’s Disease in that both produce abnormal proteins found in the brainstem which decrease a brain chemical called dopamine.  When dopamine is limited an individual will experience changes in their movement such as stiffness, tremors, shuffle, etc.  As these proteins spread throughout the brain they also begin to affect and deplete other brain chemicals. Decreased levels of these brain chemicals will lead to changes in cognitive skills and behaviors.

Though Lewy Body dementia is similar to Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, the signs and symptoms do differ. Some of the earliest signs of Lewy Body Dementia include visual hallucinations and REM sleep disturbances. In order to confirm a diagnosis of LBD, a physician will rely on numerous medical evaluations (including blood work, brain imaging and functional/cognitive evaluations) as well as an in-depth history. In order to diagnose, it is important for the physician to establish which symptoms occurred first, with a timeline/duration of symptoms.

For more information visit the Lewy Body Dementia Association Inc website:  www.lbda.org

You may also wish to download this 40-page booklet entitled: 

Lewy Body Dementia: Information for Patients, Families, and Professionals - http://lbda.org/sites/default/files/lewybodydementia-final_11-6-13.pdf

 

Multi-infarct Dementia

Also referred to a vascular dementia, this is a deterioration of cognitive abilities and, at times, physical symptoms such as weakness in limbs (generally on one side of body), slurred speech, and facial droop. These symptoms are caused by multiple strokes (infarcts) or a break in blood vessels that causes bleeding in the brain. Multi-infarct dementia can be diagnosed through a neurological evaluation and brain scanning techniques.

Though multi-infarct dementia is not curable or reversible, rehabilitation services can help people relearn and regain skills that were affected. In addition, by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle one may reduce the risk of stroke.

For more information contact the American Stroke Association www.strokeassociation.org

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system of over 1.5 million Americans. Symptoms often associated with this disease include tremors, stiffness in limbs and joints, difficulty with speech, limited facial expressions and difficulty initiating spontaneous movement such as walking. Those with Parkinson’s display a limited amount of a brain substance known as dopamine. Dopamine works within the central nervous system to control muscle activity. When an individual has a decreased amount of dopamine, their body responds with the symptoms mentioned above. Those who live with Parkinson’s can develop memory loss and confusion as the disease progresses.

Presently, there are medications and treatments that help to decrease the symptoms, but they don’t provide a cure.

For more information please contact the American Parkinson’s Disease Association: www.apdaparkinson.org.

Facts about dementia and the diseases that cause them:

  • Diagnosis is key; allowing for initiation of possible treatments and opportunities to plan for the future
  • Most of the diseases that cause dementia are progressive in nature
  • Change is a common factor in all these diseases

Each individual progresses through his or her condition in his or her own way and time. Caregivers must anticipate change and understand that there is no set timeline in which the change will occur.

Though caring for someone with a dementia-related illness can be a challenging journey, you do not have to do it alone. Let Emerald Crest Senior Services assist you. For more information contact Admissions.


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I am grateful that my Mom is in such good care.

— Jackie, registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and daughter of Emerald Crest resident

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