By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer
Dementia itself is not a disease, but rather a set
of symptoms that accompany specific diseases.
Dementia is a general term for the loss of memory,
language and recognition that is severe enough to
interfere with everyday life. Researchers believe
dementia may be caused by a combination of genetic and
environmental factors. Some diseases that cause
dementia are irreversible and include Huntingtonís
disease, Pickís disease, Parkinsonís disease, Lewy
body dementia, multi-infarct dementia and Alzheimerís
disease (AD), the most common form of dementia,
accounting for 60-70 percent of the diagnosed cases.
An estimated 4.5 million people in the United States
have dementia. On average, patients with AD live from
8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, although the
disease can last up to 20 years. The disease usually
begins after age 60 and the risk increases with age.
Younger people may get AD; however, it is much less
common. Ten percent (10%) of Americans age 65 and
older have AD and it affects fifty percent (50%) of
Americans age 85 and older. AD is one of the most
feared mental disorders because of its progressive and
relentless attack on the brain. Despite its
prevalence, dementia may go unrecognized or be
misdiagnosed in the early stages of the disease.
According to the Alzheimerís Association and current
national studies, there are many reasons to support
the early detection of AD. An early diagnosis is
crucial because that is when the most can be done to
slow the progression of symptoms. In addition, early
treatment can have a considerable effect on
maintaining a patientís current level of functioning.
An early and accurate diagnosis can also help to
identify reversible conditions that may mimic dementia
such as depression, medication side effects, substance
abuse, vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, bladder
infections or thyroid problems. An initial
assessment can avoid the trauma of a diagnosis of
dementia where it does not exist. It also prevents
unnecessary and possibly harmful treatment resulting
Other reasons include:
- Identifying the cause of dementia leads to
proper care and allows patients a greater chance
of benefiting from existing treatments
- Early diagnosis can help resolve the anxiety
that accompanies noticeable, yet unexplainable
changes in behavior
- Educating persons with dementia and their
caregivers gives them time to develop advanced
- The quality of life for both the patient
with AD and the family can be maximized.
- The earlier the treatment, the better the
chance of a favorable response to treatment, the
longer the delay of progressive symptoms and the
less financial cost overall.
The early identification process, currently
recommended by the Chronic Care Network for
Alzheimerís Disease, includes two key tools to
identify people who may have dementia.
Tool 1: Education and Awareness
Materials which recommend the use of triggers that
signal possible dementia and include the Ten Warning
Signs of Alzheimerís Disease.
Tool 2: Family Questionnaire which
aims to collect data from family members who are
often the best historians and are more likely to be
aware of the signs and symptoms (of possible
dementia) that are not apparent to the medical