In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer identified the disease that came to bear his name. In 1979, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) caused 875 deaths in this country. That was the first year AD was identified as a separate cause of death. By 1993, more than 18 thousand people in the U.S. died from AD.
• Approximately 5.3 million Americans currently live with AD.
• Some 200 thousand of that number have early-onset AD — people in their forties and fifties.
• Every sixty-eight seconds another American is diagnosed.
• AD has been listed as the sixth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and accidents. However, in March, 2014, the American Academy of Neurology reported AD is now the third leading cause of death.
Warning signs of AD:
• Profound memory loss
• Inappropriate behavior or behavior swings
• Apparent confusion and agitation
• Difficulty with spoken or written language
• Difficulty with routine tasks, such as bills
• Problems with vision and understanding spatial relationships
• Signs of impaired judgment and reasoning
Dementia is a symptom. AD is one cause of the symptom. Dementia is considered the general term for decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, memory loss for example. Experts agree that AD is the most common and accounts for as many as 70 to 80 percent of all cases.
Among dementia’s many other causes are Lewy Body disease, Parkinson’s disease, Vascular or multi-infarct dementia, fronto-temporal, and thyroid disease. Most are not reversible, rather they are degenerative diseases of the brain that get worse over time.
Too often, a doctor will tell the patient that he or she has “a little dementia” or in my husband’s case, “mild dementia.” Patient and family leave the office feeling relieved that it’s only dementia and not Alzheimer’s. I know I did. When we got into the car to come home I started bawling. Peter wondered what was wrong with me. I almost never cry.
“I thought she was going to say you have Alzheimer’s,” I told him.
“You mean I don’t?”
“No! It’s just dementia.” We even went to our favorite place for coffee and pastries to celebrate.
“Dementia” isn’t funny, but laughter in large doses does help. I can no longer ignore the elephant.
[Facts and figures taken from on-line sources which show varying, but similar, statistics.]
Header photo: Rain on my sunroof.