March 19, 2012

One of the most difficult things to experience as an adult child or caregiver of an elderly individual is the decline of his or her memory and cognitive abilities. Dementia — and its most common sub-type, Alzheimer’s — is a major cause for concern amongst the elderly population and their younger caregivers. So this week on the Griswold Blog, we’re going to give you the facts about dementia — what it is and the major signs and symptoms. After this week’s blog posts, you will know what to look for and whether or not you should be concerned about your loved one.

But first, a quick intro — the dementia diagnosis, explained:

Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, it’s a general term that covers a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other cognitive skills.

A doctor is able to diagnose dementia with a high level of certainty, but it’s harder to determine the exact type of dementia because symptoms and brain changes often overlap. General dementia symptoms include impaired functioning of:

?communication and language
?reasoning and judgment
?visual perception
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80 percent of cases. Since changes in the brain usually begin in the hippocampus, — the part of the brain that affects learning — the most common early symptom is forgetting newly learned information. Most individuals then advance through increasingly debilitating stages — this rapid progression of cognitive decline associated with AD is perhaps its clearest distinction from the more general dementia.

Some professionals explain the dementia/AD distinction with an analogy: dementia is like a “fever,” whereas Alzheimer’s is the sickness that causes the fever. But even with today’s modern technology, it is impossible to diagnose Alzheimer’s with 100% accuracy while the individual is alive — although a “probable AD diagnosis” is usually very accurate.

Special memory clinics and research programs are working on clarifying this ambiguous and debilitating syndrome. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 100 research studies pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are underway and recruiting volunteers.

But while we let the medical experts work on demystifying the details of dementia and finding a treatment or cure, let’s focus on the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Check back soon for the 10 warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s.