Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias
Memory loss that is severe enough to interfere with everyday life and ability to function is not part of the normal aging process. It is a symptom of “dementia.”
Dementia is defined as a loss of mental function in two or more areas such as language, visual and spatial abilities, memory, thinking and reasoning skills, or judgment.
Dementia itself is not a disease. It is a general term for a broader set of symptoms that accompany certain diseases or physical conditions. Some of the degenerative diseases that cause dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Frontotemporal dementia (FTD or Pick’s disease) and Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Other physical conditions may cause or mimic dementia such as depression, brain tumors, head injuries, nutritional deficiencies, infections (AIDS, meningitis, syphilis), alcoholism, drug reactions, and thyroid problems. Individuals experiencing dementia-like symptoms should undergo diagnostic testing as soon as possible.
It is important to identify the underlying cause of dementia because interventions and treatments for different types may vary. Some conditions such as depression and nutritional deficiencies (e.g., vitamin B12) are treatable. An early evaluation and careful diagnosis can help identify “reversible” conditions, give people a greater chance of benefiting from existing treatments, and allow individuals and families more time to plan for the future.
Alzheimer’s disease (pronounced Ahlz'-hi-merz) is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disease that creates irreversible changes in brain cells and results in impaired memory, thinking and ability to reason. Over time, these changes become so severe that they interfere with daily functioning and eventually result in death.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a decline in the ability to perform routine tasks, gradual memory loss, confusion, loss of language skills, and impaired judgment and planning. People with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty with learning, decision-making, personal care activities, and communication-- both in expressing thoughts and understanding what others are saying. Other common symptoms include changes in mood, personality and behavior, such as agitation, suspiciousness, anxiety, delusions and sometimes, hallucinations.
Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. One in eight individuals age 65 or older and nearly half of those over 85 are affected. However, Alzheimer’s disease can strike adults as early as their 30’s and 40’s. A person with Alzheimer’s will live an average of eight years from the onset of symptoms although the duration can range from 2 to 20 years. The actual rate of disease progression varies from person to person.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death for people of all ages and the fifth leading cause for adults over age 65. Today, about 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, including at least 200,000 individuals under age 65 with "young onset" dementia. This number has more than doubled since 1980. Unless a prevention or cure is found, between 11 and 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2050.
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North Carolina Statistics
- North Carolina currently has over 170,000 older adults with Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. By 2030, the total number is projected to rise to over 300,000 (D.A. Evans et al.).
- The results of the NC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey indicate that 28% of North Carolina residents are providing regular care or assistance to an older adult with a long-term illness or disability. Almost half of these caregivers report that the person they are caring for has memory loss, confusion or a disorder like Alzheimer’s disease.
- Recent studies estimate that over 70% of persons with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for at home or in the community by family members and friends. In order to continue their care, families need a strong network of community support that includes dementia-specific information, counseling, problem-solving, capacity-building and appropriate respite care.
In an effort to provide the necessary supports to prepare for this upcoming crisis in dementia care, the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services supports several key initiatives that assist individuals and families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia:
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September 7, 2012
Living with Alzheimer’s by Second Opinion
NC Silver Alert Program
Additional State Publications and Resources
Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month