Dementia: A Growing Epidemic

Do you remember  when anyone exhibiting signs of dementia was simply said to have Alzheimer’s?

Wait–kind of a heavy pause here.  What’s happening for me in this silence is the realization that to this very day, a significant minority, if not, in fact, the outright majority, of people still cannot differentiate between the two.

I myself might have been responsible for such mistaken thinking had I been born into a different family. As it stands, I’m blessed with a father who is pioneer in geriatrics and mental health, not just here in America, but world-wide. (I know this only too well as I’m the ‘keeper of the CV,’ which–I am not making this up–clocks in at 36 pages, with hundreds of publications, proceedings, multiple dozens of consulting positions you name it. Don’t be too jealous of this job.)

You see, calling Alzheimer’s dementia is rather like calling any yoghurt Chobani or any pastry at Starbucks a lemon loaf. Much as I adore that lemon loaf (and they even claim it’s reduced fat).

Although Alzheimer’s is by far the most common form of dementia (according to the Alzheimer’s Association, between 50 to 80% of dementia cases),  “dementia” is really just the name for a cluster of symptoms caused by brain disorders and is not a specific disease.

The following infographic, contributed by a savvy reader–perhaps one who know I’m undergoing a whopping case of writer’s block–addresses within it a number of other dementias. It is vital that those illness get play time–and the interest and research money and pharmaceutical investment that comes with it.  Yet this visual information barely scratches the surface, for–prepare yourself–there are over 100 types of dementia.

So let me, before I return to being the man behind the curtain, direct your eye to the infographic’s  text on vascular dementia (caused by small strokes), the second most common type, accounting for up to 20% of dementias, and the list of other types of dementia in small type following that.

Allow me to add just add a few so they don’t feel left out of what is shaping up to be a colossal mess.  Financially (both individually and at the government level), as well as emotionally for caregivers, and, most painfully of all, for the elderly themselves–dementia is indeed becoming an epidemic.

How about dementias more complicated than Alzheimer’s due to concurrent physical illness or an untimely appearance? There’s dementia from Parkinson’s disease, and “Familial Alzheimer’s disease” (also called “early-onset” Alzheimer’s disease), which occurs before the age of 60, accounting for 5-7% of Alzheimer’s cases. More complicated still is “mixed dementia,” where one has the bad luck of having Alzheimer’s plus another type of dementia; autopsies have actually found this in up to 45% of people with dementia.

I don’t know how dementia with Lewy bodies, probably the third most common form of dementia, escaped the infographic’s clutches:  that one comes in a pretty clear third place, probably accounting for 10-25% of cases.  (Point of interest: the abnormalities in the brain typical of this dementia are named after one Frederick H. Lewy, a neurologist who discovered them while working in the lab of none other than Dr. Alois Alzheimer.)

And now, to the very informative art work:

Source: MBA-Healthcare-Management.com

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