A few decades ago, only a few medical specialists would have heard of Alzheimer’s disease. “Senility” was considered inevitable for anyone who lived long enough. But as understanding of the brain has grown, science has been able to identify and differentiate many causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but other brain disorders can and do frequently cause dementia.
These types of dementia often present themselves with very similar symptoms. Even trained physicians may have a trouble determining for certain which type of dementia a patient has, and some people experience multiple types of dementia concurrently, which is called “mixed dementia.” That said, newly acquired knowledge and technologies are allowing doctors to diagnose and distinguish different types of dementias better than ever before.
Here are the four most prevalent forms of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most well-known and common type of dementia.
- Memory loss
- Difficulty communicating
Cause: The mechanisms behind Alzheimer’s disease aren’t well understood and there are competing hypothesis, but the most distinguishing feature of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain. It’s widely believed that these brain changes are behind the disease.
Treatments or therapies: There are many therapies, both pharmaceutical and non-chemical which can temporarily increase functioning and improve the spirits of the person with Alzheimer’s disease, but no treatment has proven to be effective. The Alzheimer’s Association says, “At this time there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The U.S. government has made Alzheimer’s research a high priority and set the optimistic goal of finding a cure by 2025. Vigorous research continues and numerous possible treatments are being investigated.
Vascular dementia is also known as “multi-infarct dementia” or “post-stroke dementia” and is the second most common cause of dementia.
- Memory loss
- Impaired judgment
- Decrease ability to plan
- Loss of motivation
Cause: Bleeding within the brain from a stroke cause brain damage.
Treatments or therapies: Vascular dementia cannot be cured, but people who have the ailment are treated to prevent further brain injury from the underlying cause of the ailment. Like Alzheimer’s disease, numerous medication and therapies may be used to help manage the symptoms.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is the third most common cause of dementia, and is also called “cortical Lewy body disease” or “diffuse Lewy body disease.”
- Sleep problems
- Memory loss
- Frequent swings in alertness
Cause: Lewy bodies abnormal proteins that somehow appear in nerve cells and impair functioning.
Treatments or therapies: There is no known treatment to reverse Lewy body dementia or address its underlying cellular cause, but as with Alzheimer’s and other the other main types of dementia, a wide array of therapies and treatment are used to improve the patient’s quality of live and alleviate symptoms.
Frontotemporal dementia is fairly rare, but believed to be the fourth most common type of dementia. Unlike the types of dementia discussed previously, frontotemporal dementia is marked more by behavioral and emotional changes than by cognitive impairment. In fact, memory is preserved in people with frontotemporal dementia.
- Decreased inhibition (frequently leading to inappropriate behavior)
- Apathy and loss of motivation
- Decreased empathy
- Repetitive of compulsive behaviors
- Anxiety and depression
Cause: Frontotemporal dementia occurs when the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain are damaged or shrink.
Treatments or therapies: Frontotemporal dementia cannot be cured or reversed, but doctors will use medicines to treat uncomfortable or problematic symptoms.
Other Causes of Dementia
Just about any condition that causes damage to the brain or nerve cells can cause dementia. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease will often exhibit dementia in the later stages of their illness. Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease and alcoholism can all lead to (currently) irreversible cognitive impairment.
Alzheimer’s Is on the Rise in Every State
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is expected to reach epidemic proportions across the globe, if no cure is found. A report detailing the latest facts and figures about Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association found that 10% of adults in the U.S. over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s.
The report estimates that Alzheimer’s will rise by 14% in all 50 states over the next eight years.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that “between 2017 and 2025 every state across the country is expected to experience an increase of at least 14% in the number of people with Alzheimer’s due to increases in the population age 65 and older. The West and Southeast are expected to experience the largest percentage increases in people with Alzheimer’s between 2017 and 2025. These increases will have a marked impact on states’ health care systems, as well as the Medicaid program, which covers the costs of long-term care and support for some older residents with dementia.”
Noting that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, states with a larger senior population would be expected to have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s than younger states. Additionally, some socioeconomic factors are also associated with Alzheimer’s.
The states expected to have the biggest increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses are:
- Alaska: Alaska has the lowest number of adults over the age of 65 – less than 10% of Alaska’s population. 10% of seniors in Alaska have Alzheimer’s – the nation’s lowest percentage. However, Alzheimer’s is expected to increase by 54.9% by 2025 in the state of Alaska leading Medicaid costs for treating Alzheimer’s to increase by 82.5%.
- Arizona: 16.4% of Arizona’s population is over the age of 65 and 11.6% of these seniors have Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is expected to increase by 53.8% by 2025 in the state. Last year, Alzheimer’s was the 8th leading cause of death among Arizona residents.
- Nevada: Alzheimer’s is expected to grow 48.8% between 2018 and 2025 in Nevada. 14.6% of their population is over the age of 65 and 10.2% of adults over the age of 65 currently have Alzheimer’ – one of the nation’s lowest percentages. This number is still expected to increase at an alarming rate to nearly 50%.
Preparing for a Future with Alzheimer’s
A large part of the estimated jump in Alzheimer’s is due to the baby boomer generation reaching their senior years and increased longevity. The Alzheimer’s Association report states, “The number of Americans surviving into their 80s, 90s and beyond is expected to grow dramatically due to medical advances, as well as social and environmental conditions. Additionally, a large segment of the American population — the baby boom generation — has begun to reach age 65 and older, ages when the risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias is elevated. By 2030, the segment of the U.S. population age 65 and older will increase substantially, and the projected 74 million older Americans will make up over 20% of the total population (up from 14% in 2012). As the number of older Americans grows rapidly, so too will the numbers of new and existing cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
On a global scale, Alzheimer’s is growing at a rate of epidemic proportions. In 2010, there was an estimated 454,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s. It’s estimated that by 2030, that number will increase by 35% to 615,000 and by 110% to 959,000 in 2050.
Check out a related post: Planning for the Protection of Your Family and Assets in the Age of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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