Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1, “Dementia,” was published on Nov. 14. Part 2 is “Alzheimer’s and Other Dementia,” and Part 3 will be “Normal Memory Loss and the Impact of COVID-19.”
In 1906, German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a 50-year-old woman with paranoia, progressive sleep and memory disturbances, aggression, and confusion. He noted symptoms as memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. Upon her death, he examined her brain and found abnormal clumps (amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of fibers (neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles).
Plaques and tangles in the brain are identifiers of Alzheimer’s disease as is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons). Neurons transmit messages between the parts of the brain, and from the brain to muscles and organs in the body.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia and the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2018, deaths from heart disease decreased nearly 8% while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 146%.
Over 16 million people in the U.S. provide unpaid care for people with dementia. The price for managing dementia in 2020 is estimated to cost the nation $305 billion and by 2050 that figure may skyrocket as high as $1.1 trillion.
While 82% of physicians say they are on the frontline of dementia care, 50% believe that the medical community is not ready for the growing number of people that will be struggling with dementia in the future.
Dementia is a broad term defining these brain diseases. Think of dementia as a tree trunk with the branches representing the various disorders. Each branch has their own leaves that signify the signs and symptoms of a particular variety of dementia. Each branch is unique, but they belong to the same trunk.
Approximately one out of 10 diagnoses fall under the second most common form, vascular dementia which occurs when there is not enough blood going to the brain. It can be caused by damage of blood vessels or blockages that can lead to Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA or mini stroke) or brain bleeding. Memory loss is not a typical first symptom of vascular dementia.
Lewy Body dementia accounts for 5 to 15% of dementia cases. It involves abnormal clumps called alpha-synuclein, which build up in the part of the brain (the cortex) that handle learning, thinking, and physical movements. This dementia causes challenges with attention, sleeping, hallucinations and slowed, unbalanced movements that looks similar to Parkinson’s disease.
Frontotemporal dementia which accounts for 2 to 5% of dementia cases, is the neurodegeneration of the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes. This dementia causes substantial changes to behavior and personality. In some cases, brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes shrink, while in other cases the brain cells can get larger.
If you see a change in someone and you suspect it may be dementia, the best thing to do is encourage them to see their doctor. It is important that you don’t try to self-diagnose as there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to dementia. To reach the Alzheimer’s Outreach Program Coordinator call 530-274-6007.
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