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Alzheimer's Disease & Related Disorders

What is Dementia?
Dementia is the loss of intellectual functions (such as thinking, remembering and reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person's daily functioning. It is not a disease in itself, but rather a group of symptoms which may accompany certain diseases or physical conditions. The cause and rate of progression of dementia's vary. Some of the more well-known diseases that produce dementia include Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson's and Pick's disease. Other conditions which may cause or mimic dementia include depression, brain tumors, nutritional deficiencies, head injuries, hydrocephalus, infections (AIDS, menengitis, syphilis), drug reactions and thyroid problems.

It is imperative that all persons experiencing memory deficits or confusion undergo a thorough diagnostic work up. This requires examination by a physician experienced in the diagnosis of dementing disorders and detailed laboratory testing. The examination should include a re-evaluation of all medications. This process will help the patient obtain treatment for reversible conditions, aid the patient and family in planning future care, and provide important medical information for future generations.

Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most common of the dementing disorders currently affecting as many as 4 million Americans. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include a gradual memory loss, decline in ability to perform routine tasks, disorientation in time and space, impairment of judgement, personality change, difficulty in learning, and loss of language and communication skills. As with all dementias, the rate of progression in Alzheimer's patients varies from case to case. From the onset of symptoms, the life span of an Alzheimer sufferer can range anywhere from 3 to 20 or more years. The disease eventually leaves its victims unable to care for themselves. While a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is possible only through the examination of brain tissue, which is usually done at autopsy, it is important for a person suffering from any symptoms of dementia to undergo a thorough clinical examination. In fact, after such an evaluation, approximately 20% of suspected Alzheimer's cases prove to be a medical condition other than Alzheimer's, sometimes treatable.

Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
1. Recent memory loss that affects job performance. Everyone forgets things then recalls them later. Alzheimerīs patients forget often, never recall and repeatedly ask the same question, forgetting the earlier answer.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. "People with Alzheimer's disease could prepare a meal, forget to serve it and even forget they made it."

3. Problems with language. A person with Alzheimer's may forget simple words or use inappropriate words, making speech difficult or impossible to comprehend.

4. Disorientation of time and place. People with Alzheimer's may get lost on their own street and forget how they got there or how to get home.

5. Poor or weaker judgement. Even a normal person might get distracted and fail to watch a child. A person with Alzheimer's disease could entirely forget the child under their care and leave the house.

6. Problems with abstract thinking. Anybody can have trouble balancing a checkbook; a person with Alzheimer's could forget completely what the numbers are and what needs to be done with them.

7. Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in inappropriate places - an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl - and not be able to retrieve them.

8. Changes in mood or behavior. Everyone has occassional moods, but people with Alzheimer's can have rapid mood swings - from calm to tears to anger - within a few minutes.

9. Personality changes. A person with Alzheimer's may change drastically and inappropriately, becoming irritable, suspicious or fearful.

10. Loss of initiative. People with Alzheimer's may become passive and reluctant to get involved in activities.

Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia is a deterioration of mental capabilities caused by multiple strokes (infarcts) in the brain. The onset of Vascular dementia may be relatively sudden as many strokes can occur before symptoms appear. These strokes may damage areas of the brain responsible for a specific function as well as produce generalized symptoms of dementia. As a result Vascular dementia may appear similar to Alzheimer's disease. Vascular dementia is not reversible or curable, but recognition of an underlying condition (high blood pressure) often leads to a specific treatment that may modify the progression of the disorder. Vascular dementia is usually diagnosed through neurological examination and brain scanning techniques, such as computerized axial tomography (CAT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in order to identify strokes in the brain.

Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system which affects more than one million Americans. Individuals with PD lack the substance dopamine, which is important for the central nervous system's control of muscle activity. Parkinson's disease is often characterized by tremors, stiffness in limbs and joints, speech impediments and difficulty in initiating physical movement. In the course of the disease, some patients develop dementia. Medications such as levodopa which converts itself into dopamine once inside the brain and deprenyl, which prevents degeneration of dopamine-containing neurons, are used to improve diminished or reduced motor symptoms in PD patients but do not correct the mental changes that occur.

Pick's Disease
Pick's disease is a rare brain disorder which, like Alzheimer's disease, is usually difficult to diagnose. Disturbances in personality, behavior and orientation may precede and initially be more severe than memory defects. Like Alzheimer's disease, a definitive diagnosis is usually obtained only at autopsy.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus is an unusual disorder which involves an obstruction in the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This blockage causes a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain. Symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus include dementia, urinary incontinence and difficulty in walking. Presently, the most useful diagnostic tools are the neuroimaging techniques (ie., MRI). Normal pressure hydrocephalus may be caused by any of several factors including menengitis, encephalitis and head injuries. In addition to treatment of the underlying cause, the condition may be corrected by a surgical procedure (insertion of a shunt) to divert the fluid away from the brain.

Depression is a psychiatric disorder marked by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, feelings of hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Many severely depressed patients will have some mental deficits including poor concentration and attention. When dementia and depression are present together, cognitive deterioration may be exaggerated. Depression, whether present alone or in combination with dementia, can be reversed with proper treatment.


Alzheimer's 3 Stages

What is Dementia?

Ten Warning Signs

Alzheimer's Disease

Vascular Dementia

Parkinson's Disease

Picks Disease

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus


Alzheimer's Association 

For further information about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders, contact the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900
(TDD: 312-335-8882).

Barton House -
Phone: 1-480-991-9912
7007 East Mountain View Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
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Phone: 1-858-481-3081 Fax: 858-481-2674
12625 High Bluff Drive
San Diego, CA 92130

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