If you or someone you know is concerned about memory problems, you're not alone. But is what you’re experiencing normal, or something more serious?
As you age, some forgetting is natural and inevitable – but Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging.
The fact is, Alzheimer's disease is more than forgetting where you put your keys. Symptoms include loss of memory that affects day-to-day function, difficulty with regular tasks, and changes in mood and behaviour.
There are also other types of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. Some causes of dementia are very treatable, so it’s important to find out what’s at the root of your concerns.
The word dementia is an “umbrella term” that refers to many different diseases. Different types of dementia are caused by different physical changes to the brain.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by "plaques" and “tangles”. “Plaques” are numerous tiny dense deposits scattered throughout the brain, which become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels. "Tangles" interfere with vital processes eventually "choking" the living cells. As brain cells degenerate and die, the brain also markedly shrinks in some regions.
The Alzheimer Society provides services not only for individuals affected by Alzheimer’s disease, but also for people affected by other dementias. Here is a brief description of other forms of dementia:
Vascular Dementia (VaD)
VaD, the second leading cause of dementia, is a type of dementia caused by problems in the supply of blood in the brain. It may result from a single or multiple strokes. Strokes can be large or small, and can have a cumulative effect (each stroke adding further to the problem). VaD usually has a sudden onset immediately following a stroke. The symptoms may vary, affecting some areas of the brain more or less than others (t.g., language, vision or memory).
Click for further reading on Vascular Dementia from our National website.
www.alzheimers.org.uk This publication by the Alzheimer Society of United Kingdom discusses the symptoms, types, risk factors, diagnostic process and treatment of vascular dementia. This easy to read brochure was prepared in 2005.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
MCI is a type of memory change that is different from both Alzheimer’s disease and normal age-related memory change; some consider it an intermediary stage. People with MCI have ongoing memory problems, but do not experience the other symptoms of dementia like confusion, or difficulty with language.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
CJD is a rare form of progressive dementia characterized by degeneration and loss of nerve cells leading to the production of microscopic holes in the brain. CJD usually has rapid onset and decline. Early symptoms may include lapses in memory, mood swings similar to depression, lack of interest and social withdrawal.
Click for further reading on Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease from our National website.
www.ninds.nih.govThis is the site of The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The organization is dedicated to raising awareness, supporting patients, their families and caregivers, and promoting scientific advances. Their purposes are charitable, educational, and scientific. The site features information about Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, its symptoms and treatment, and links to on-line resources.
Fronto-temporal Dementia (FTD)
The term “fronto-temporal dementia” covers a range of conditions, including Pick’s disease. Damage occurs in the frontal lobe and/or the temporal parts of the brain. These areas are responsible for behaviour, emotional responses and language skills. During the initial stages of FTD, memory is still intact, but the personality and behaviour of the person changes. In the later stages, the damage to the brain is usually more generalized, and symptoms usually appear to be similar to those of Alzheimer’s. Click for further reading on Fronto-temporal Dementia from our National website.
www.ftd-picks.org This is the site of The Association for Frontotemporal Dementias (AFTD), an American based non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and fund research into finding the cause and cure for the frontotemporal dementias. The site provides information to persons diagnosed with frontotemporal dementias (FTD) and their families and caregivers. The site has detailed information about pick’s disease, corticobasal degeneration, progressive aphasia and semantic dementia.
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
LBD is a form of progressive dementia identified by abnormal structures in brain cells called “Lewy bodies”. LBD usually has a rapid progression. In this form of dementia, there is progressive loss of memory, language, reasoning and other higher mental functions, such as calculation. Some features of LBD can resemble Parkinson’s Disease.
Click for further reading on Lewy Body Dementia from our National website.
www.lewbodydementia.org - This is the site of The Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). The organization is dedicated to raising awareness of the Lewy body dementias (LBD), supporting patients, their families and caregivers, and promoting scientific advances. The Association's purposes are charitable, educational, and scientific. The Directors of the LBDA Board are located throughout the US, and LBDA volunteers are from the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The site features information about Lewy Body dementia, its symptoms and treatment, links to on-line resources, caregiver tips and an email helpline.
It’s important to note that sometimes, symptoms of dementia can be caused by conditions that may be treatable, such as depression, thyroid disease, infections or drug interactions.
That’s why it’s important that any concerns you might have be discussed with your doctor.
Read about the warning signs…
If the symptoms are not treatable and progress over time, they may be due to damage to the nerve cells in the brain. If that’s the case, getting an early diagnosis is critical for you and your family, to ensure you and your care partners can get the support needed to maintain quality of life.
Research increasingly shows that by making a commitment to your own brain fitness plan, you can help maintain the health of your brain and reduce your risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease as you get older.
Read more about brain health.
Did you know:
- Most Canadians (78%) think brain health is at least as important as physical health – but aren't sure what it takes to keep their brain in good shape.
- What's good for your heart is good for your head! Choosing to eat well and exercise can help reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer's.