Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia have a significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships. They also lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in people aged 65 and older. Experts believe that up to 4 million people in the United States are currently living with the disease: one in 10 people over the age of 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer's disease. At least 360,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's each year.
In most people, symptoms of AD appear after age 60. However, there are some early-onset forms of the disease, usually linked to a specific gene defect, which may appear as early as age 30. AD usually causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities, usually during the span of 7 to 10 years. Nearly all brain functions, including memory, movement, language, judgment, behavior and abstract thinking, are eventually affected.
On average, patients with AD live for eight to 10 years after they are diagnosed. However, some people live as long as 20 years. Patients with AD often die of aspiration pneumonia because they lose the ability to swallow late in the course of the disease.
Is there any treatment for dementia?
While treatments to reverse or halt the disease progression are not available for most of the dementias, patients can benefit to some extent from treatment with available medications and other measures, such as cognitive training.
Many people with dementia, particularly those in the early stages, may benefit from practicing tasks designed to improve performance in specific aspects of cognitive functioning.
Dementia is a difficult issue to deal with often pulling families apart because of the lack of understanding of this disease. Please contact your doctor for the latest information concerning dementia and its treatment.
Paul Markovich, marketing director at Áegis of Escondido. Áegis Living operates 33 communities in Washington, California and Nevada. For more information go to
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