June is the month for raising the awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. We hear a lot about dementia in the news and many of us have an elderly family member who has dementia. What is this condition? Who is affected by it? What are the signs? What causes it? First, dementia is a general term that refers to a person’s loss of memory, language, problem-solving skills, and other mental abilities that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. It has many causes and there’s still a lot we do not know. While more common in older individuals, it can affect younger people. Some red flags for dementia include:
- Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Using unusual words when talking about familiar objects
- Forgetting old memories or the names of a close family member or old friend
- Not being able to finish things on your own
What puts us at risk for dementia? Some risk factors include:
- Age – people aged 65 years and older are at greatest risk
- Family history – those who have a parent or siblings with dementia are at greater risk
- Race/ethnicity – older Hispanics and African Americans are 1½ to 2 times more likely to have dementia than whites
- Health conditions – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and brain injuries increase the risk for developing dementia
There are many forms of dementia. The two most common are:
- Alzheimer’s – 60 to 80% of dementia cases. Its hallmark symptom is trouble remembering events that happened recently.
- Vascular dementia – second most common, 10% of cases. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are a few of the risk factors.
At this time, there are no cures for the common types of dementia. The current and best treatments we have use therapies, thinking strategies, changes to one’s environment, and/or medications to help manage symptoms. The medications on the market right now help to manage symptoms such as anxiety or behavioral changes. A new medication by Biogen, called Aduhelm, treats the cause of Alzheimer’s dementia in those who are not in advance stages of the disease. It slows the progression of the disease. There are many studies going on to help better understand and treat dementia.
We can do our best to protect ourselves against developing dementia by keeping a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and staying socially engaged with family and friends. These can help decrease the risk of chronic diseases that can lead to dementia. If you want more information, a good resource is the Alzheimer’s Association.