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Alzheimer’s Disease, the Most Common Form of Dementia, is One of Many

By Janie Rosman

(Page 1 of 3)

My neighbor was taking one of his thrice-daily strolls with his caregiver, Celia, the other day when he stopped in front of a tissue discarded on the hallway floor. Moving to pick it up, he was stopped by Celia. “He likes to pick things up off the floor whether they belong to him or not,” she told me.

I smiled empathetically as she gently put his hand back on the walker’s handle. “He wants his own way all the time; and if he doesn’t get it, he gets angry,” she said.

“Although several years younger, my dad is the same,” I told her. “He wants to be in charge.”

“He’s been living with Alzheimer’s disease,” one doctor told us. He was right, it turns out; AD is the most common — yet not the only — form of dementia in people 65 and older, according to Alzheimer’s Weekly, and accounts for between 50 and 70 percent of all dementias.

Dementia is defined as “a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain and is not one specific disease” by Alzheimer’s Australia, the peak group that provides support and advocacy for the 257,000 Australians living with it.

While the cause of most dementia is unknown, its final stage involves loss of memory, reasoning, speech, and other cognitive functions, and risks of developing dementia increase with age, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Caused by a variety of illnesses, dementia can occur as the result of a stroke (vascular dementia), Parkinson's disease, a brain tumor, a thyroid or other metabolic or endocrine disorder, or any number of reasons; proper diagnosis is necessary to ensure correct treatment.

Data from the 2007 nationally-representative Health and Retirement study concluded that one in seven Americans over age 70 has some form of dementia.

Dementia classifications group disorders that have similar features, such as whether they are progressive or what parts of the brain are affected. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke lists some frequently-used classifications:

Cortical dementia — brain damage primarily affects the brain's cortex, or outer layer; tends to cause memory, language, thinking, and social behavior problems.

Subcortical dementia — affects parts of the brain below the cortex; tends to cause emotional and movement changes and memory problems.

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