Community Health & Wellness

Wellness Wednesday | What you need to know about Alzheimer’s and dementia during Brain Awareness Month

Posted on June 18th, 2024 By: Scot Fleshman

Imagine looking into the eyes of your closest longtime friend but unable to place them or remember their name.

Or remembering suddenly, in the grocery store aisle, you need coffee, only to come home and find several unopened packages of coffee in your cupboard because the same situation has happened several times before.

What about knowing you need to take a specific medication that your health depends upon but not remembering whether you already took your daily dose?

Those are common situations that the 6.9 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and dementia face daily. Since June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we want to share some facts to help you be aware and stay proactive about your health and your family.

The difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia

In simple terms, dementia is a general term for a person’s mental ability decline that interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, and the most common cause of dementia. In fact, 60-80% of dementia cases! While related, they aren’t the same thing, and the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, which affects their ability to communicate. This damage can also affect a person’s thinking, behavior and feelings. Alzheimer’s is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage and is degenerative. That means it progressively gets worse once it starts.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia

How do you know if your occasional memory lapses are unrelated or possibly from dementia or Alzheimer’s? Watch out for these early symptoms:

  • Memory loss disruptive to daily living
  • Difficulty with planning and problem-solving
  • Challenges with completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion regarding places, times, or people
  • Difficulty with visual images or spatial relationships
  • New issues with speech or writing
  • Losing items and being unable to retrace steps
  • Poor judgement and decision-making ability
  • Withdrawing from work, hobbies, or social interactions
  • Noticeable changes in personality or mood

Typically, symptoms start with disorientation, confusion and behavior changes and become progressively more severe. Eventually, the disease physically impacts speaking, swallowing, and mobility. In fact, more people die from Alzheimer’s or another dementia than breast cancer or prostate cancer combined. It’s vital to be aware of the symptoms and to seek a diagnosis early on to find the ideal care for your situation.

Neither disease is a normal part of aging!

Scot Fleshman

The Wellness Wednesday column is written by Scot Fleshman, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and board-certified family nurse practitioner. Fleshman and his wife, Jessica Hopkins, own Gig Harbor Primary Care.