What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a broad term that refers to changes in a person’s cognitive functioning (memory, language, reasoning) that cause a decline in their ability to manage daily life activities (healthcare/medications, finances). Major Neurocognitive Disorder can also be used to label this group of cognitive and functional challenges. Dementia and Major Neurocognitive Disorder mean the same thing. There are many other brain conditions that can lead to Dementia. A few of the most common will be discussed below.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of Dementia and it makes up 60% or more of cases. Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disease that damages brain cells and leads to decline in cognitive and functional abilities. The damage is caused by buildup of abnormal protein components (plaques, tangles) called “beta-amyloid” and “tau”, respectively. Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of brain aging. As Alzheimer’s Disease advances, the person experiences gradual decline in cognitive and functional abilities (memory loss is often the first sign), progressing across a continuum from “normal for age” to a sort of middle ground called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and eventually to a diagnosis of Dementia. So, the underlying brain disease (Alzheimer’s Disease) is the cause of the cognitive and functional challenges (Dementia).
Lewy Body Disease
Dementia with Lewy bodies is condition that develops due to an accumulation of abnormal protein components called alpha-synuclein that damage brain cells. In addition to more typical symptoms like memory loss, people with this form of dementia may have movement or balance problems like stiffness or trembling. Many people also experience changes in alertness including daytime sleepiness, confusion or staring spells. They may also have trouble sleeping at night or may experience visual hallucinations (seeing people, objects or shapes that are not actually there).