Elders and stress

Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease


Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Dementia is a category of symptoms caused by diseases that affect cognition or the way one thinks. The most frequent form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. There are 10 warning signs that may suggest you have Alzheimer’s disease. These signs are:

  1. Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  3. Language problems
  4. Disorientation to time and place
  5. Poor or decreased judgment 
  6. Difficulty with abstract thinking
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Changes in mood and behavior C
  9. hanges in personality
  10. Loss of initiative

These symptoms will appear and worsen progressively. If you have many of these signs, it would be important to talk to your doctor about it. What causes Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown. Research has shown that small plaques and tangles in the brain form and spread as the disease progresses. These plaques and tangles may cause death of brain cells and appearance of symptoms described above. But, in most cases, we do not know what causes these plaques and tangles to form. Research has identified certain risk factors, which are:

  1. Age
  2. Family history
  3. Head injury
  4. Cardiovascular health

Unfortunately, you cannot do much about age and family history, but, to some extent, you may prevent other risk factors. For example, doctors recommend physical exercises in other to maintain a healthy life style and prevent cardiovascular diseases (This may reduce the chances of developing dementia or slow down its progression). There are some treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that alleviate the symptoms, but unfortunately cannot cure this disease.   

The second most frequent form of dementia is Vascular Dementia. The symptoms may be similar to Alzheimer’s disease, but symptoms appear more suddenly. They are caused by the blockage of blood supply (and oxygen) to the brain. For example, such blockage may occur after a stroke. For that reason, risk factors are: age, high blood pressure, heart diseases, and diabetes. Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular Dementia are very similar and often occur at the same time (Mixed Dementia).

There are other forms of dementias that are less frequent then Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia and Mixed Dementia. For example, Fronto-Temporal Dementia is another wide category that combines different diseases, such as semantic dementia, primary progressive aphasia, etc. They cause slightly different symptoms than Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular Dementia, more often involving behavior and language. The causes and treatments are still unknown for most of these disorders.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild Cognitive Impairment refers to an intermediate stage between healthy cognitive aging and dementia. It is characterized, just like in dementia, by deficits in memory, language, orientation, planning, and reasoning. As opposed to dementia, however, the changes in the cognition do not affect the daily life of the person. They can still function, work, and have a normal day. These Mild Cognitive Impairments may be the result of normal aging and will not deteriorate to dementia. In this case, the Mild Cognitive Impairments have no further consequences than the stress they might generate in a person. However, sometimes they are the first signs of an early dementia. It may be important to discuss changes in your memory with your doctor, as some of these changes may be due to other causes that are curable, such as depression. Depression sometimes causes subjective memory impairments and these disappear with appropriate treatment.

Resources

If you have any concerns, it would be important to talk to your family doctor, as soon as possible, as some of the causes of these symptoms may be reversible. If you want to learn more about some of the diseases that were mentioned, you can visit Alzheimer Society of Canada website (www.alzheimer.ca) which offers beautiful videos that show you how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain. There is also the Alzheimer Association (www.alz.org) and the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) in the United States.