Dementias are degenerative disorders that develop primarily in the nervous system and selectively damage particular areas of the brain. Some dementias, like Alzheimer’s disease affect all areas of the brain simultaneously, while others, such as frontotemporal dementia, affect the parts of the brain involved in controlling one’s communications and emotions. Still others are caused by vascular disease, brain trauma, or chronic alcohol abuse (Korsakoff’s syndrome)
By 2030, 20% of U.S. population will be older than 65 years of age – about 50 million people. Dementia affects 1% to 6% of those older than 65, and between 10% and 20% of those older than 80 years of age. In the next 30 years, estimated 10-20 million seniors in U.S. will have mild to severe forms of dementia.
Seniors with history of moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) have a 2-3 times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – those with a severe TBI have a 4-5 times greater risk. Even healthy seniors are at risk for falls and head trauma, so any fall to the head, however minor, should be seen by a medical professional and documented.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 65% of all dementias. There is no direct diagnosis of Alzheimer’s – and while PET scans and other imaging techniques are being studied, none have yet been able to show the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s onset often surprises families because vision, movement, and sensation remain untouched while a senior’s memories begin to slowly decrease. Recent memories are affected first, leading to “senior moments” that appear innocent because all other memories, including those from decades ago, remain intact. Eventually those remote memories begin to fade, and lastly the senior’s “crystallized” memories, such as family member’s names and faces, are compromised.
By David L. Raffle, PhD
Clinical and Forensic Neuropsychologist