August 17, 2010 in Features

Not all dementia is Alzheimer’s disease

But ‘tsunami’ of cases likely in coming years, researcher warns
Jane Glenn Haas Orange County Register
 
The 10 warning signs

• Memory changes that disrupt daily life

• Challenges in planning or solving problems

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks

• Confusion with time and place

• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

• New problems with words in speaking or writing

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

• Decreased or poor judgment

• Withdrawal from work or social activities

• Changes in mood and personality

For those people 55 and older, researchers have some grim news: One in six will develop some form of dementia.

The dementia could include Alzheimer’s, which impacts nearly half of those 85-plus, or it could manifest as a different dementia, including Lewy body, vascular, Parkinson’s disease or frontal lobe dementia.

“All these dementias are characterized by a collection of proteins, specific to the dementia, that clump together –proteinopathie,” says Frank LaFerla, head of the UCI Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND).

“People are confused about what the term ‘dementia’ means. It’s an umbrella term, like cancer. When you say a person has cancer it’s not clear if it’s skin, brain, breast or so on. The same is true with dementia, and you need to know the exact type to treat it properly.”

Q.Why do we assume all dementias are Alzheimer’s?

A.A lot of primary physicians don’t even know the differences in dementia.

Dementia, as it says in our brochure, is a general term for memory loss and decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with the activities of daily living.

We don’t know the causes of Alzheimer’s or other dementias, but researchers are working on finding treatments to delay the progress of the disease. And one study often finds the answer for another question. A recent study on Huntington Disease here led to clinical trial work on Parkinson’s.

This happens through our memory assessment clinic.

Q.Do you have a slogan?

A.Making memories last a lifetime. We are trying to make sure everybody’s memories last their entire life. Our best hope for a cure comes from research.

We need the public to be aware there is a tsunami of Alzheimer’s cases expected in the next 20 years as the boomer population ages. Already, more than 10 percent of the nation’s Alzheimer’s patients live in California. We estimate 60,000 in Orange County (Calif.) have the disease or are at risk for it. And in the next 20 years, we expect the afflicted Latinos and Asians to significantly add to that percentage.

Q.Why are Latinos and Asians not showing up significantly in your current counts?

A.There are certain stigmas to brain diseases in different cultures. It has taken Americans decades to get over talking about old people as “senile.” We know the Asian and Latino cultures do not like to acknowledge these problems in their older populations.

Q.This growing number of Alzheimer’s patients sounds expensive.

A.We estimate by 2050 the United States will spend $1 trillion dealing with Alzheimer’s patients. And another 40 percent caring for those with other forms of dementia. If that comes to fruition, it’s going to bankrupt us.

Q.We all have memory loss as we age, though?

A.Sure. If we go to the mall and forget where we parked our car, that’s a function of aging memory, not Alzheimer’s. If we forgot we drove a car there, that’s more serious.


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