Avera Medical Minute: World Alzheimer’s Month spreads awareness

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 2:38 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Is there a difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? Avera Medical Group neurologist Dr. Justin Persson says to think of Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia, but there are various forms of dementia. Some of the more common forms are Parkinson’s, Lewy body, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. “Dementia itself refers to the inability or diminished ability to make decisions, to think, or diminish memory,” Dr. Persson said. “It typically interferes with what the person is able to do day to day, and for the most part they are unable to live independently.”

Alzheimer’s tends to affect the part of the brain that is in charge of learning and memory initially. As the disease progresses it tends to affect other areas of the brain leading to further cognitive decline and disability. Dr. Persson says people often ask what their chances may be of developing the disease if someone in their family has it. If someone develops Alzheimer’s before the age of 60, it tends to be the genetic type. If it develops after the age of 60, it tends to be more sporadic. There are a few genes that mildly increase the chance of getting Alzheimer’s, but do not necessarily indicate you will develop the disease.

Age is a primary risk factor contributing to these diseases. Around the age of 80, about 20% of people develop some form of dementia. Around the age of 90, that number increases to 40%. Other risk factors such as heart disease and stroke seem to mirror the development of dementia. “Controlling things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking,” Dr. Persson said. “Also being inactive both physically and mentally tend to increase a person’s chance of having Alzheimer’s in the future.” A study published a few years ago showed that controlling these risk factors decreased a person’s chance of getting Alzheimer’s by 30%.

Only a few medications are available to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, but nothing is available yet to stop or reverse memory loss. If you notice a loved one is having trouble completing tasks they can do, they are repeating themselves more often, they are misplacing things, or their judgment seems off, Dr. Persson says it is worth an evaluation with a primary care provider before possibly visiting a neurologist.