Alzheimer's Disease FAQs

Are there ways to keep my brain healthy?

Changes in thinking occur as a consequence of many stresses to brain networks. Some of these stresses are avoidable. Research studies suggest that “heart healthy” lifestyles are also “brain healthy” lifestyles. By treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, avoiding weight gain, avoiding or treating diabetes if you have it, thinking may be preserved even if there are dementia pathologies in the brain. Daily aerobic exercise, engaging in a wide variety of new and different activities outside of a routine, and socializing also help to build a reserve for the brain to weather other damaging factors. Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or sleep walking or talking also are associated with changes in brain function and should be identified and treated. All medications should be reviewed by your physician or pharmacist to determine if any cause confusion or risk of dementia.

Why should I have my memory checked if I don’t detect any changes?

It is best to identify brain problems early when there is potential to stop or slow further damage.

Aren’t memory and thinking problems normal as you get older?

All of us occasionally forget where we put our keys or have a hard time coming up with a word. However if this happens more frequently or starts to affect our ability to do things (missing appointments, getting lost while driving, trouble fixing things, taking longer to complete usual routines), it is probably not normal aging. Depression or anxiety that occurs for the first time after age 50 or worsening of depression or anxiety after age 50 are also possible signs of changes in brain function. Its probably best to see your physician if you have any concern about your memory, thinking or mood. Doctors now recognize that detrimental changes in brain function occur many years before any changes in thinking occur. This is called “preclinical dementia”.

Wouldn’t I know if my memory or thinking problem was serious?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Some people recognize when they need to see a physician. Other times friends and family are the first to notice a significant change. Your doctor may be the first person to identify a change based on a screening test for thinking.

What does dementia mean?

Dementia is a general term that means there is a severe problem with memory, thinking or behavior that gets worse as time goes by. These problems interfere with a person’s ability to do the things they want to do, in a way that is different from how they were before.

How is dementia diagnosed?

Several kinds of information are needed to determine if someone has dementia and if so what type of dementia. A diagnosis relies on putting together information from a detailed description of any changes in day to day life, mood, behaviors, sleep habits, medications, neurologic examination, tests of memory and thinking, blood tests, and a picture of the brain (either CT or MRI scan). Other tests such as spinal taps or PET scans and genetic testing can give additional information about the type of dementia but these results must be interpreted along with the history and cognitive tests.

Are dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) the same thing?

No. Dementia is a general term, AD is a specific term for one type of dementia but there are more than 50 different conditions that can cause other types. Some dementias are due to disorders in heart, kidneys, immune system or other organs that affect the brain from the outside. Other dementias are due to problems that arise within the brain. Some dementias may be reversible.

Who is likely to get this disease?

The biggest risk factor for dementia and AD is simply getting older. About 4 percent of people aged 65-69 have dementia, but this steadily goes up with age, so that 60 percent of people aged 85 and older will have dementia.

Aren’t strokes and mini strokes a common cause of dementia?

Vascular disease accompanies all dementias, but rarely causes dementia by itself. It is important to identify vascular changes and vascular risks. By preventing their effects on the brain it reduces that impact of other brain pathologies on thinking and memory.

Why should I find out if I have AD or other dementia?

There are treatments to help you and there are treatments to help your family. Medications can help and may be different in different dementias. These medications may not cure the disease but they may slow the rate at which it progresses. In addition your physician will want to ensure that you fine tune a “brain healthy” lifestyle and control all the modifiable factors that affect the rate and severity of changes in brain function.

What causes AD?

In its normal state, Amyloid protein builds brain cell connections. As we age, it can change and form plaque within the nerve cells, which then disrupt the transport systems and lead to tangles. Over time tangles spread from nerve to nerve within brain networks and cause symptoms corresponding to the area of the brain that is affected. The cause is not known. It is likely that some of the causes are inherited from our parents (genetic) and others may be related to medical conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol, brain injury, sleep disorders, depression and lifestyle habits.

What are the symptoms of AD?

The Alzheimer’s Association’s list of 10 warning signs of AD are;

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Problems with planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding spatial relationships
  • Problems coming up with words or using the wrong word
  • Misplacing things
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood or personality

How common is AD?

About four million people in the United States have a diagnosis of AD. It is the fifth leading cause of death in those older than 65 years of age. Someone develops AD every 70 seconds, by the year 2050 this number will be every 30 seconds. In 2009, Alzheimer’s care by family and unpaid caregivers valued $144 billion, Medicare payments for services related to AD is 3 times higher than costs for non-AD patients.

What should I do if I’m worried about my memory or changes in thinking?

Speak to your physician about your concerns. Your doctor might choose to evaluate you or you may be referred to a specialist from the Henry Ford Multidisciplinary Memory Clinic.

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