Trying to develop a meaningful list of illnesses grouped under the term Dementia hasn’t been as easy as I hoped!
The single biggest problem is finding clarity!
The clarity in what the illness is?
The clarity in the diagnosis of the illness?
The clarity of treatment of the illness?
So, if there is so much lack of clarity, why do they all come under the term Dementia?
If you stop using the word, Dementia and start thinking of the problems associated with the different illnesses as neural decline, then I believe this helps.
You see, all of these illnesses have this in common. They all show signs and symptoms of neural decline. However, the cause of the disease, if known, can be much different! Each condition impacts the individual’s brain cells resulting in signs and symptoms that may appear to be similar from one illness to the next. It is knowing the specific symptoms for each disease that is paramount.
The list. (This is not a complete list)
Alzheimer’s. This is the most common term known under the term dementia. It is said that it accounts for around 80% of all cases, but what that actually means, I’m not sure. Do you?
This is a statement on the Uk’s NHS site relating to Alzheimer’s.
‘There’s no simple and reliable test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, but the staff at the memory clinic will listen to the concerns of both you and your family about your memory or thinking. They’ll assess your memory and other areas of mental ability and, if necessary, arrange more tests to rule out other conditions.’
Your doctor, the person you go to first when you have concerns, may if ‘they’ think it is important, send you to:
- A psychiatrist (usually called an old age psychiatrist)
- An elderly care physician (sometimes called a geriatrician)
- A neurologist (an expert in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system)
It is incredible the order that the NHS list is in!
If you finally get to someone that looks at the problems that you went to the doctor with in the first place, you will most likely go through a well-worn path of tests.
This usually starts off with a group of tests that assesses:
short- and long-term memory
concentration and attention span
language and communication skills
awareness of time and place (orientation)
abilities related to vision (visuospatial abilities)
At the same time, you would wish, a lot of other tests that the NHS suggest should be being carried out. Such as:
Blood tests to check:
haemoglobin A1c (to check for diabetes)
vitamin B12 and folate levels
and of course infections!
You should be having scans of your brain too. Scans such as MRI, CT, SPECT and PET! These various scans show different brain images and may show signs of tumours, strokes, blood supply problems, areas where there is the death of brain cells and an array of other physical issues. However, it seems that they will often be inconclusive towards a dementia diagnosis. They may show possible signs, but not always the cause.
However, the first course of action, according to the NHS, is, Taking a History!
- ask how and when symptoms started and whether they’re affecting daily life
- check whether any existing conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression or stroke, are being properly managed
- review any medicines you’re taking, including prescribed drugs, those bought over the counter from pharmacies, and any alternative products, such as vitamin supplements
This is an area where I think there is a distinct lack. This may be due to the time and cost restrictions of the medical profession, but my personal experience is the one area that needs a lot more support and research. I feel that the answers are there in the past; we need to learn to look.
I could not find any information or anyone willing to state their views regarding the idea of what deems a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s seems to be diagnosed when the signs of symptoms develop to the point of no return, where it appears that the progression of the unknown cause, or the brain’s declining ability to function, seems inevitable.
It seems obvious that if those seeking help don’t get it, then the signs and symptoms are most likely to worsen progressively, and you too could end up moving from being diagnosed with Dementia to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s too!
Another question I could not find an answer to:
How many people start with a diagnosis of Dementia, and later the diagnosis changes to Alzheimer’s?
So, the final and essential questions:
I’ve been diagnosed, what does it mean, and what’s the treatment?
It is clear and straightforward! It will only worsen, and your neural decline will get so bad that your body will start to stop functioning, and you will die. There is no cure! According to the medical profession that is!
Billions have been spent researching Alzheimer’s, looking for a cure without any, and I repeat any solution! What is missing is the research into the cause!
The main area of research has been Amyloid Plaques and Tangles in the brain.
Alois Alzheimer was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist and the person who discovered these Amyloid Plaques and Tangles in 1906. It was his name that we associate with Alzheimer’s today, but apparently, he was never sure if the Amyloid Plaques and Tangles were the cause, or the consequence of Dementia. This is the same fact today, well over one hundred years of research!
As I’ve covered a lot in this chapter for you to think about and hopefully comment on, I’ll continue the list in the next chapter.
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