What Is Dementia?

dementia testing tucsonDementia 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.

Alzheimers Disease

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).

dementia testing tucson
dementia testing tucson

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).

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is a group of disorders that impact behavior and/or language. Progressive brain cell loss in the frontal lobes (the areas behind the forehead) can cause changes in a person’s personality and social behavior. Often the person acts in ways that are very different from their lifelong personality. If the brain cell damage is mostly confined to the brain’s temporal lobes (the regions behind the ears), communication problems are the most obvious feature.
dementia testing tucson
dementia testing tucson

Parkinsons Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years and worsen over time. The progression of symptoms varies from individual to individual. Shaking of the hands or “tremor” is fairly common, along with stiffness or slowing of movement and challenges with balance and walking. Reductions in unconscious movements can occur, for example, eye blinking, facial expressions, and arm swinging while walking. Slower and slurred speech and smaller and less legible handwriting are also common. Medications are usually prescribed to treat symptoms, with the goal being increasing or substituting for the dopamine that is lacking. The effectiveness of the medications can diminish or become less consistent over time, requiring modification of the medication regimen to maximize the quality of life. For individuals with more advanced disease, surgical procedures can be considered, such as deep brain stimulation. Changes in cognition can occur in the context of Parkinson’s disease, and depression, anxiety, and sleep issues can emerge and would require separate interventions.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems in cognition caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain. Reductions in concentration, speed of thinking, organization, and memory can manifest, but the nature of the symptoms depends on the region of the brain affected. Some experts use the term “vascular cognitive impairment” to emphasize the notion that cognitive changes can range from mild to severe. Cognitive changes can occur suddenly if a major blood vessel in the brain is blocked or if there is a blood vessel rupture (hemorrhage). Both of these processes are referred to as a stroke or cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Sometimes, a step-wise progression can take place, where a series of minor strokes cause distinct declines in functioning. Medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and cause gradual worsening of memory or thinking skills. Symptoms can overlap with symptoms of other types of dementia, especially dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. In terms of treatment, drugs designed to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to offer some benefits in individuals with vascular dementia. Treatment primarily works to prevent deterioration by treating the underlying disease, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes mellitus. There is strong evidence in the research literature that active management of conditions like diabetes and hypertension can improve outcomes and help postpone or prevent further decline.
dementia testing tucson

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