Although Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, there are more than 70 others. Dementia may be triggered by strokes, high blood pressure, alcoholism, medications, brain tumors and infections, depression and rare diseases that cause brain damage, including Pick's, Huntington's and Parkinson's.
The disease most closely associated with aging, Alzheimer's causes the progressive deterioration of the brain to such an extent as to render victims unable to recognize their spouses and immediate family. The patient may become confused, unable to concentrate and have trouble finishing sentences. More than 70% of the patients had behavioral disorders, such as unprovoked aggressiveness. Over time, Alzheimer's leaves victims as helpless (and just as needing) as children.
No treatment is available to stop or reverse its degenerative effects.
Multi-infarct dementia, or vascular dementia, is caused by multiple strokes (infarcts) in the brain. Because the strokes usually occur before the symptoms of dementia appear, the onset of the dementia seems sudden. The strokes affect the part of the brain responsible for specific functions, such as calculations, and create the more generalized symptoms of disorientation and behavioral changes. Because of multi-infarct dementia's similarity to Alzheimer's, the two coexist in 15% to 20% of dementia patients.
No cure or reversing process exists, but early assessment of cause can halt the progression of the disease.
Those with Parkinson's lack dopamine in their systems. This neurotransmitter helps control the tremor, stiffness and slowness characteristic of the disease. In late stages, some patients develop dementia. Parkinson's patients often develop Alzheimer's and, at times, Alzheimer's patients develop Parkinson's symptoms.
Drugs can treat the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's but do not improve any mental deterioration. Parkinson's is considered a model for drug research on Alzheimer's disease.
Dollars and Financial Impact
Fewer research dollars go toward studying Alzheimer's disease, and other dementing illnesses, than heart disease, cancer or AIDS. Yet, Alzheimer's, the fourth-leading cause of death among adults in the country, claims more than 100,000 lives annually.
An estimated 4 million seniors suffer from the disease nationally, while Orange County has 40,000 Alzheimer's victims who struggle to cope with the mysteriously debilitating brain disorder.
There is no known reason why the disease strikes people over the age of 60, and there is no known cure for this ultimately fatal disease. Further, total costs, which include diagnosis, treatment, long-term care and lost wages, is estimated to be more than $88 billion each year.
The federal government covers $4.4 billion of these costs and state coffers are dipped into for another $4.1 billion. But the remaining $79 billion is borne by Alzheimer's patients and their families.
RESEARCH DOLLARS AND THE FINANCIAL IMPACT OF DEMENTIAS ON SOCIETY
Federal Research Estimated Funding Societal Disease Requests, 1991 Costs, 1991 (millions) (millions) Alzheimer's disease (and related disorders) $153 $88,000 Heart disease $704 $94,000 Cancer $1,580 $72,000 AIDS $1,695 $66,000
Differences Between AAMI and Alzheimer's Disease
The term \o7 age-associated memory impairment \f7 (AAMI) refers to the minor memory difficulties that come with age, or are often brought on by stress. AAMI differs from Alzheimer's disease, and other related dementias, in that AAMI is neither debilitating nor progressive.
Commonly thought of as "forgetfulness," AAMI can be brought on by grief, depression, illness, stress, medication, alcohol, fatigue, lack of concentration or just attempting to remember too many details at once.
Alzheimer Activity Patient AAMI Forgets Whole experience Parts of an experience Remembers later Rarely Often Follow written or Gradually unable Usually able spoken directions Able to use notes, reminders Gradually unable Usually able Able to care for self Gradually unable Usually able
Alzheimer's disease, often mistakenly thought to be the definition of dementia, is the most commonly known of the 60 possible causes of senile dementia.
Declines in intellectual functions and in the ability to perform routine activities often renders dementia victims virtually without memory, as dependent as infants on the support of others to feed, clothe and bathe themselves. A steady loss of brain cells intensifies the symptoms of deteriorating memory, impaired judgment, depression, a lack of concentration and restlessness.
In 1989, people 75 years and older ran the greatest risk of falling victim to the debilitating and often incurable symptoms of senile dementia. And, within the next 50 years, as the nation's senior population grows, the number of dementia patients is expected to triple.