Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Comparing Alzheimer's With Other Dementias

Here’s a popular article I wrote that is appearing on eldercare blogs, zines and sites throughout the web. It first appeared on my former website on September 17, 2006. I hope you agree that it is as relevant today as it was then. Feel free to continue a conversation on this theme, caregiver burnout, caregiver support, or on any other related topic:

In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer presented a key paper to the meeting of the South West German Society of Alienists. In it he described the disease syndrome that now bears his name. Today, Alzheimer’s Disease has become the common term most people use whenever they talk about any kind of dementia. In fact, the very term “Alzheimer’s” has become a catchall for any syndrome in which progressive cognitive dysfunction is the major manifestation.

However, there are dozens of other dementias including, to name just a few: Multi-Infarct Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), Pick's Disease, Progressive Aphasia, Corticobasal Degeneration, Lewy Body Dementia, Senile Dementia, Binswanger’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Parkinsonian, etc.

From a caregiver’s point of view, it almost doesn’t matter which dementia is at hand. The perpetual grief and mourning felt by the caregiver will be the same regardless of the specific process affecting his or her loved one.

My special interest is in Multi-Infarct Dementia because that is the one that affected my mother and the one I write about in: “DEMENTIA DIARY: A Care Giver’s Journal.” (Another name for this syndrome is Vascular Dementia.)

I should say that I am not a physician or a professional expert in this disease. I am, by profession, a hospital administrator, so I do feel equipped to at least understand the language of the clinicians. What I know comes from 16 years of watching my mother sink into her opaque world, plus 16 years of discussions with physicians providing her medical care.

Here is the way one physician described Multi-Infarct Dementia to me. It is caused by multiple strokes, some call them mini-strokes. The “victim” of this condition may not be, indeed usually is not, aware that anything out of the ordinary has occurred. Neither are his or her significant others.

Perhaps there is momentary weakness, headache, or dizziness, but nothing major. Over time, however, enough damage is done to the brain that symptoms begin to appear such as: confusion, impaired judgment, aphasia, irritability, depression, mood swings, inertia, significant memory loss, and a host of possible others.

Not all symptoms are experienced by every sufferer, but sooner or later most of them may appear. And the symptoms of Multi-Infarct Dementia are not really all that different from Alzheimer’s or other dementias. I’ve been given to understand that these differences are subtle, hard to tell apart for a layman.

Health care professionals have explained that if one were to line up sufferers of each of the various dementias next to one another you could probably differentiate them—but that’s what it would take.

If you are dealing with a dementia in a loved one, good luck and best wishes in your search for help and understanding.

Longevity and its hazards

Sadly, the interest in Alzheimer's and other Dementias is universal. So is caregiver burnout. The good news is that modern medical technology has enabled millions to experience longer life. The bad news is that many of these aging millions live longer but don’t really experience it—at least not in the way you and I do (or as they themselves did when they were younger). Their memories are gone or going and their loved ones are grieving for who they were. But caregiver support is available.

This blog is dedicated to all caregivers of aging parents or other loved one’s whose identities have been lost to this terrible process. To encourage discussion and exploration of this timely topic, I have made myself available to community, library, academic and religious groups primarily in, but not limited to, Michigan and Florida. A complete calendar of my scheduled eldercare talks is available on request. If you are interested in scheduling a presentation, please let me know with a comment on this blog or else contact me at:

Here are just a few of my past presentations:

Warren Arsenal, Warren MI: Civilian Employee Group
Selfridge Air National Guard Base: Civilian Employee Group
Northbrook Presbyterian Church, Beverly Hills MI: Adult Education Group
Madonna University Library, Livonia MI
Temple Beth El, Bloomfield Hills MI: Community Library Program
Birmingham Rotary
Madonna Magazine—Catholic Television Network—TV Interview
Metro Detroit JCC Book Fair
Washtenaw (Ann Arbor) JCC Book Festival
Wayne State University, Detroit: Writing & Publishing Workshop