Saturday, March 13, 2010

Encore: How does Alzheimer's Compare to 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 and on this blog in June, 2008. 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.

Bob Tell
Dementia Diary, A Caregiver's Journal


Anonymous said...

"From a caregiver’s point of view, it almost doesn’t matter which dementia is at hand." - For those suffering from dementia at a younger age of onset, it DOES matter. The behavioral issues, and the safety and well-being of both the patient and the caregiver(s) are different when an otherwise healthy 55 year old has a disorder such as frontotemporal dementia. What is so very true is that the caregivers need appropriate support regardless of the diagnosis.

Bob Tell said...

Thank you for your very important comment. I wish you weren't "anonymous" so I could respond to you directly. However, I hope you get to read this so you will know how grateful my readers and I are for your insight about early onset FTP dementia.

Dan said...

I didn't know much about dementia till reading an article on the HuffPost the other day which talked about how creative arts are helping people with diseases like Alzheimer's. So now I am reading a bit more which is how stumbled upon your blog. May they find a cure and treatment soon. oh, here is the link to other article I read:

Bob Tell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Tell said...

Dan, this is an incredible article and will raise the hopes of many dementia sufferers and their caregivers. It is important enough that I will do a blog post about it. Thanks so much for alerting us to it.

Elderly Care Palm Springs said...

Alzheimers disease is a form of a mental disorder known as "dementia". Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously hampers the brain's ability to process rational or normal thought and inhibits the daily activities of its sufferers because of this. Alzheimers disease, therefore, affects the part of the brain that is responsible for thought, memory, and language

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