Understanding the Impact of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
By OHM Staff
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people living with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that more than 5.5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s. The disease is projected to cost the nation $277 billion by 2050.
Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. However, recent estimates indicate that the disorder may rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living. While it is rare for younger people (in theirs 20s and 30s) to develop the condition, it is possible to experience signs of early-onset dementia.
The causes of dementia can vary, depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. Other dementias include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia. It is common for people to have mixed dementia — a combination of two or more disorders, at least one of which is dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After she died, he examined her brain and found many abnormal clumps (now called amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (now called neurofibrillary). These are still considered some of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease.
Every 65 seconds, someone in America develops dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Take this opportunity to learn about Alzheimer’s and dementia and how it impacts individuals and caregivers.