Dementia Expert

Understanding the Basics

New caregivers understandably get confused by the medical language, and it helps to have simple definitions of the facts.

‘Dementia’ is not a disease.  ‘Dementia’ is an umbrella term describing a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally.

  • Everyone who has Alzheimer’s has dementia; not everyone who exhibits dementia symptoms has Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurological brain disorder. The rate of decline and severity of symptoms varies from person to person. All AD patients suffer continuing cognitive decline, becoming progressively less able to think clearly.
  • Your AD parent may exhibit changes in personality, mood, and behavior; lose the ability to make safe and sound decisions for health care, bill paying, and routine financial matters.
  • AD is democratic; it crosses all socioeconomic borders, and affects men and women almost equally. One in ten people over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. Research estimates 200,000 people under 65 have been diagnosed with ‘early onset’ Alzheimer’s.
  • Mom may forget how to perform routine tasks such as grooming, grocery shopping, cooking, turning off the stove, or locking the door. A caregiver from New York described it this way: “One day it all seemed to change. My mother looked dirty. The woman who always dressed well wore the same pair of jeans and the same shirt for over a week. She looked thin and frail and even when I brought her food, it stayed in the refrigerator for days.”
  • Dad may sometimes seem disoriented, forget words, have difficulty in learning, be unable to concentrate or to read the time on a clock, write a letter, or recognize a friend.
  • As frightening as these symptoms may be, they do not automatically constitute a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

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