Who am I? Dementia is not a disease…so what exactly is it?

Who am I?

Dementia is not a disease…so what exactly is it?

Dementia is a sad and debilitating condition, not a specific disease as many people think and it’s quickly becoming an epidemic on the rise in the U.S. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills, severe enough to affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities/tasks. Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as ‘senility’ or ‘senile dementia’ which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that mental decline is a normal part of aging.”1

Types of dementia

There are numerous types of dementia and treatment/symptoms can vary for each. The most common types are:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia (occurs typically after a stroke)
  • Lewy Body Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the most recognized and prevalent type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Worldwide, more than 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

“Alzheimer’s currently affects over six million Americans and that number is expected to more than double by the year 2050. It is also very expensive to treat/manage with annual costs in the U.S. topping $277 billion, expected to exceed $1.1 trillion in the next 30 years. Vascular Dementia, which often occurs after a stroke, is the second most common type of dementia.”2

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “If all four dementia causes were counted together, dementia would have been the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2017.”3

Memory loss and other symptoms of dementia

Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly. However, in most cases, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible such as thyroid issues and vitamin deficiencies.4

‘Who am I?” My personal experience with dementia

Like many people, I have a personal connection to this cruel condition. My father was stricken with vascular dementia in 2010 and we watched the once strong, proud, kind, and loving patriarch of our family, deteriorate mentally to someone we didn’t recognize and polar opposite of the man we once knew and respected so much. He was surrounded by family, over 30, including his soulmate, my mother, (who was 87 at the time; they had been married 65 years), his five children, 20+ grandchildren/great grandchildren and close friends, when he finally surrendered and gave up the good fight, succumbing to the condition in May of 2016. Dementia not only afflicts the patient but also takes a significant toll on the caregivers, often family members, who provide around-the-clock care.

“About one in three Alzheimer’s caregivers report their health has become worse due to care responsibilities.”5
My mother and sisters provided compassionate care all the way until the end and never got discouraged, remembering him for the man he was, which was not the same man they were treating. He remained home for the extent of his six-year battle that was probably much longer than if he had been in an assisted-living facility. I commend my mother and sisters for the selfless devotion they showed in caring for Dad, often sacrificing their own personal enjoyment and missing out on vacations and other important events.
One of the most poignant moments my father and I shared took place about one month before he passed. I was sitting with him one afternoon and he looked me straight in the eye and asked me, “Who am I and who’s house is this?” I replied, you are a great man, a caring husband, father and grandfather who is loved and respected by so many people….and we are sitting in the house that you built over 60 years ago! He smiled and said, “I didn’t know that; thanks for telling me. I love you too!”

Preventive action we can all take

Get checked. Early detection matters. If you notice any of the below early signs/symptoms, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately, just don’t assume it’s because you are getting older and forgetful.

The 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

What’s a typical age-related change?

  • Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
  • Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
  • Vision changes related to cataracts.
  • Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
  • Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
  • Making a bad decision once in a while.
  • Sometimes feeling weary of work, family, and social obligations.
  • Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Modern dementia detection tools

Healthcare has evolved significantly over the last 25 years with innovative digital technologies being developed that help providers improve the quality of care delivery and outcomes.

At Savonix, we deliver the world’s first fully mobile, evidence-based assessment of cognitive function. Available on Android and iOS for phone and tablet, Savonix Mobile is an accurate, accessible, and affordable tool for professional cognitive screening. It empowers healthcare providers, payers, and researchers to evaluate and leverage results to improve health and treatment outcomes. Led by clinical psychologists, neuroscientists, and IT leaders, we hope to become the global authority on cognition and its relationship to risk, outcomes, and the development of innovative therapies.

Our evidence-based tests are digital versions of the gold standard cognition tests that neuropsychologists have used effectively since the 1930s. Savonix’s radical new approach to cognitive assessment will help bring down costs and accessibility barriers and transform the way we treat pervasive conditions that have a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities. Our primary focus is to provide you with evidence-based and real-time assessment of your brain health.

To learn more about how Savonix can help you or your providers better detect and manage cognitive health, please visit our website @ www.savonix.com.

  1. ALZ.org- About Dementia
  2. ALZ.org- Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Facts and Figures
  3. CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics
  4. ALZ.org- Common Types of Dementia
  5. ALZ.org- Caregiver Statistics