Dementia is our most-feared illness…Dr. David Perlmutter
Dementia is a common term used to describe a collection of symptoms, it is not a diagnosis. The DSM, diagnostic and statistical manual for medical diagnosis uses the following definition.
Evidence from the history and clinical assessment that indicates significant cognitive impairment in at least one of the following cognitive domains:
- Learning and memory
- Executive function
- Complex attention
- Perceptual-motor function
- Social cognition
Furthermore, these conditions must be met:
- The impairment must be acquired and represent a significant decline from a previous level of functioning
- The cognitive deficits must interfere with independence in everyday activities
- In the case of neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer disease, the disturbances are of insidious onset and are progressive, based on evidence from the history or serial mental-status examinations
- The disturbances are not occurring exclusively during the course of delirium (such as during an acute illness or intoxication)
- The disturbances are not better accounted for by another mental disorder (eg, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia)
Manifesting as difficulty with one or more of the following:
- Retaining new information (eg, trouble remembering events)
- Handling complex tasks (eg, balancing a checkbook)
- Reasoning (eg, unable to cope with unexpected events)
- Spatial ability and orientation (eg, getting lost in familiar places)
- Language (eg, word finding)
- 5.3 million Americans have dementia in 2015
- Estimates for 2025 are 7.1 million
- Nebraska has 33,000 cases
- Estimates for 2025 are 7.1 million
- 5% of population in their 70’s have dementia
- 25% of population in 80’s
- 6th leading cause of death
- 1 in 3 Americans have a demential condition at the time of their death
- less than 1/2 of patients are aware they have a diagnosable dementia
- most victims are over 65,
- women have higher incidence at a ratio of 2:1.
- higher incidence in hispanics and Black races.
- Costs U.S. $226 billion in 2015.
- Medicare costs are 300% higher for a senior with dementia than one without.
Types of Dementia:
Alzheimers Dementia, called AD
- AD is responsible for 60-80% of dementia.
- Vascular disease is the second leading cause.
Dementia of Lewey Body, called DLB
- manifests with hallucinations (visual and dramatic),
- trouble walking,
- tremor (like Parkinsonism)
- manifest more as behavioral variant of dementia
- change in personality,
- lack of inhibition,
- OCD behaviors,
Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia, PDD
- 30-40% of PD patients get dementia over course of their disease
Reversible: Minority of cases of dementia are from reversible causes (1%)
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin Deficiencies
- CNS tumor
- Alcohol or Drug abuse
- Medications side effects:
- pain pills,
- sleeping pills,
- anxiety meds,
- depression meds,
- anticholinergics (IBS, OAB meds),
- antihistamines, benedryl, Tylenol PM
- some Blood Pressure meds,
- seizure meds.
- AD-protein tangles in the brain, Tau protein
- LBD-amyloid proteins deposited in the brain, similar to AD
- Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease, CJD
- Prion infection in the brain, like Mad Cow Disease in cattle
- Stroke, or combination of many mini-strokes over time
- Parkinsons Disease, PD
- Meningitis/encephalitis(WNV, Syphilis)
Symptoms, differentiating dementia from forgetfulness or aging:
Dementia is characterized by:
- Difficulty remembering recent events, familiar people.
- Having to be told over and over.
- Forgetting major events even happened, like a vacation.
- Difficulty planning
- Difficulty with following directions, like a recipe you’ve made several times.
- Getting lost in familiar areas.
- Difficulty balancing a check book.
- The person doesn’t notice the issues, others do.
- Become anxious, irritable with minor events or changes in routine.
Forgetfulness, or normal aging is more characterized by:
- Lost keys, can you retrace your steps and find them?
- Neighbor’s name you run into at store.
- You realize you forgot something, and remember it later.
- Become a little stressed at times, like your routine.
- View article, WebMD
Your doctor can use several tools to determine if you have dementia.
- MiniCog testing, can be given at home by family member or caregiver:
- recall 3 familiar objects after 1 minute of time.
- Draw a clock face with numbers and hands to display the correct time.
- If fail MiniCog, further testing is needed.
- MME: 30 point exam done at doctor’s office
There are treatments available for dementia. First and foremost is to determine if there is a reversible cause. Several non-medical strategies can be helpful for dementia. Modification of vascular risk factors has a favorable outcome in slowing the progression of dementia.
- Heart healthy, Mediterranean diet
- Social engagement.
- socializing with friends and relatives
- learning new skills
- formal education
- active hobbies
There are medical therapies available to help with dementia.
1. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (Exelon, Aricept)
- Can be used in all causes of dementia, score of 26 or less in MMSE.
- First line treatment in early dementia.
2. Memantine (Namenda)
- NMDA receptor antagonist, may be protective of neurons. May have modest benefit in moderate to severe dementia.
- Used in combination with AcetylCoA inhibitors for moderate to severe dementia.
3. Vitamin E, 2000 U per day
- May have some benefit in Dementia,
- should not be used in combination with Memantine.
Several strategies have been found to delay the onset or slow the progression of dementia.
- At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2014, a two-year clinical trial of older adults at risk for cognitive impairment showed that a combination of physical activity, nutritional guidance, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart health risk factors slowed cognitive decline.-1
- Onion Model of cognitive decline:
- Aging affects the brain like pealing the layers of an onion.
- The more layers we build up over our lifetime the longer it takes to peal.
- The core of the onion is equated to our ability to live independently with quality of life.
- Learn a new skill (bilingualism delays the onset of dementia by 4 years), engage in formal education. Stay socially engaged, volunteerism. Active hobbies that require planning, thinking.
- Practice Vascular health:
- Good diet
- Mediterranean diet:
- fish, nuts, whole grains, fruits and veggies, olive oil, low in saturated fats (red meat, butter, cheese, sour cream, processed foods),
- Mediterranean diet:
- control weight,
- treat high blood pressure,
- control your cholesterol through diet, exercise and medications if necesary,
- aspirin may be appropriate
- (age > 65 with other vascular risk factors)
- Don’t smoke,
- get enough sleep,
- manage stress (circle of influence vs circle of concern).
- Good diet
- Avoid excess alcohol,
- evaluate and treat depression.
- NIH spends $6B on cancer research,
- $4B on heart disease research,
- $3B on HIV,
- but only $480M on AD.
- Future research is focusing on the protein tangles in the brain and inflammation.
- Antibodies against the proteins
Conclusion/Call to Action:
Dementia is unfortunately very common. As we live longer we will have increased incidences of health conditions related to aging. Our actions, or lack thereof, when we are younger can influence the development and severity of dementia. Be proactive about your health through preventive and protective habits. Take action when you are healthy to diminish the impact of conditions associated with aging such as dementia, heart disease and cancer.
1. Alzheimer’s Association,
2. Web MD
3.Up To Date
4.American Academy of Family Physicians