Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
This is Part 1 of a three-part series on dementia and aging. Part 1 is entitled, “What is dementia?” Part 2: “Alzheimer’s and other dementia” and Part three: “What is normal memory loss?”
Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Alzheimer Outreach Program (AOP) helps people understand the differences between normal memory loss, which is a result of natural aging and Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The conversation is now expanding to include the impact COVID-19 may have on long-term memory loss and cognitive decline.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month. At that time, approximately two million Americans were diagnosed with the disease; today that number has risen to 5.8 million and is expected to hit 13.8 million by 2050.
Dementia is not a specific disease, but is a broad term describing an impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with the ability to manage everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease, is the most common type of dementia, although there are many forms.
Disorders are caused by abnormal brain changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. The varying dementias are often grouped by similar characteristics such as the protein deposited in the brain or the part of the brain affected. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by high levels of certain proteins inside and outside the brain cell making it difficult for brain cells to stay healthy and communicate with each other. Often the brain cells in the hippocampus where learning and memory is centered is the first to be damaged.
Dementia is not a part of normal aging. Many older adults live their entire life with no signs of dementia. Symptoms can vary widely because of the many forms of dementia. People with dementia may start to show signs of memory loss, an inability to focus attention and communicate, reasoning, judgement and problem solving.
There are a variety of indicators that point to an onset of dementia. For example, getting lost somewhere familiar and not knowing how to get home. Cognitive changes such as using unusual words to refer to common objects, forgetting a family member or close friend, or not being able to complete simple tasks are also red flags.
A number of risk factors are associated with dementia. First and foremost is age with increasing risk affecting those 65 or older. While family history or a genetic link can be an indicator, the majority of dementia is not inherited by children or grandchildren. African Americans are two times likelier and Hispanics 1.5 times likelier to develop dementia over Caucasians. By middle age, some people with Down syndrome develop early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Whether you have a family member with dementia or are noticing potential signs, when you call AOP at 530-274-6007, you will be connected to a trained professional focused on the needs of you and your loved one. AOP is a free service designed to guide you to resources that can help during this challenging time.
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