Facts about Alzheimer's
I'm confused about my grandmother's diagnosis Q. My grandma has been diagnosed with dementia but it is not Alzheimer’s disease. I am confused as I thought they were the same?
A. There are several types of dementia (much on our minds because of Mrs Thatcher), including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), vascular dementia, frontal lobe dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. Not everyone has all the symptoms of one particular type – some people are diagnosed as having mixed dementia – and they affect individuals to different degrees and progress at different rates. I suggest you ask your grandma’s doctor if there is a specific diagnosis in her case.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. It is thought to be due to plaques and tangles in the brain causing brain cells to die faster than they would in normal ageing. The first signs are usually forgetting recent events, repetition, confusing things or getting lost. People may also become depressed and/or irritable, and lose interest in doing things.
Eventually they may need help with everyday tasks. Vascular dementia, the second most common, happens when there is any interruption in the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, as with strokes. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, high blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) are more at risk so it is important to identify and treat these conditions quickly.
Frontal lobe dementia may not provoke memory problems in early stages. It can cause dramatic personality change, e.g. from quiet and unassuming to loud and aggressive.
Lewy bodies are abnormal proteins in the nerve cells of the brain. As well as the symptoms of AD, Lewy bodies dementia can trigger hallucinations, and cause problems with balance and walking. This condition is sensitive to neuroleptic (often called antipsychotic) drugs, which are prescribed for other dementias but can lead to severe side effects, even death, in Lewy bodies dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is not dementia. This diagnosis is given for mild memory problems, when someone is, for instance, becoming forgetful and has difficulty concentrating. MCI does not necessarily lead to dementia.
Any kind of dementia is hard to cope with, for the person and carers. Dementia UK supports Admiral Nurses – specialist mental health nurses who provide practical and emotional help to families affected by dementia. Admiral Nursing Direct is a helpline for anyone with questions or concerns: call 0845-257 9406 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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