Published on: April 3, 2013
by Ed Coghlan for American News Report:
Dementia – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s Disease — is a cruel enemy. It robs the patient and often their families of health, memories and time. It is a medical condition that disrupts the way the brain works. Usually it strikes the elderly. And it’s often, but not always, permanent.
“That’s the issue we try to understand right away. Everything is not Alzheimer’s. There are many different types of dementia and it’s important to distinguish what the patient has,” said Dr. Phyllis Hays-Reams. “When we determine which one, that can help us determine the best way to treat it.”
For physicians like Dr. Hayes-Reams of Kaiser Permanente in southern California, this diagnosis is critical. And to understand the patient history, they often need help. “We like to have a family member with us when we meet with the patient, so that we can understand what “normal” looks like,” she said. “We also encourage that the patient is evaluated by a geriatrician or neurologist.”
And that’s when the detective work begins.
Physicians know that age and family history can be important indicators for dementia, and also look at diet and environmental factors.
The painful truth is that there is no cure for dementia, although there are treatments to slow the progression.
“We need to continue to push for research, in recent years we have learned a lot about Alzheimer’s which is fantastic, but we need to devote more resources to the study of dementia,” added Dr. Hayes-Reams.
If a loved one starts to have some memory issues, it’s important to remember it may not be dementia. Sometimes, patients will come to a physician and worry that they may be slipping, but nothing is wrong.
“We call them the worried well,” said Dr. Hayes-Reams.
The best known and largest type of dementia is Alzheimer’s. It is a progressive disease that starts with mild memory loss and worsens.
Lewy Body Dementia looks a lot like Parkinson’s Disease and is a progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, nursing and independent function.
Picks Disease affects younger people, between the ages of 40 and 60, and symptoms such as behavior changes, speech difficulty and impaired thinking occur slowly but continue to get worse.
Vascular Dementia can occur after a stroke, when confusion, trouble speaking and other symptoms will be noticed.
At other times memory loss and other symptoms may surface, but they aren’t always permanent. It’s called delirium, which is temporary and can sometimes last only hours or days. It might be caused by an illness or anesthesia or some other traumatic event.
“That’s why screening is so important,” she said. “We can find out what’s wrong and work with the patient and the family to help guide them through the episode.”
While Dementia primarily strikes the elderly, it is not a natural part of aging. There are many elderly, as many as two-thirds over the age of 85, who don’t suffer from any dementia at all. Physical exercise and intelligence thinking (like crossword puzzles) are great ways to prevent it.
Also, it’s important to monitor risk factors like cholesterol reading, blood pressure, diabetes and depression.
The Administration on Aging reports that there were nearly 40 million Americans over the age of 65. That number will swell to 72 million by year 2030.
“Older adults have value. I enjoy them very much,” said Dr. Hayes-Reams who was inspired to go into geriatrics when she was in medical school at Drew-UCLA. “We need to give more emphasis to geriatrics and attract more physicians into the field. It’s a very rewarding field.”
Picture: istock Photo
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