The worrying rise of dementia in the U.S. was recently laid out in a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics. It showed the rate of deaths from dementia has more than doubled in the past 17 years. The current level is 66.7 deaths per hundred people in 2017, up from 30.5 in 2000.
Dementia is not a specific disease, but a term used to describe a group of symptoms that are linked to memory decline and other thinking skills. This decline affects the ability of the sufferer to perform routine daily tasks.
The lead author of the report, Dr. Ellen Kramarow, is a health statistician for the Aging and Chronic Disease Statistics Branch fir the National Center for Health Statistics. She recently explained that since people live longer now, they are at a higher risk for dementia.
The data used for the research was based on information from death certificates filed in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Four types of dementia were examined and the authors took age into consideration: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, unspecified dementia and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system as these are the ones recognized by the International Classification of Diseases.
With 261,914 deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease, that is 46% of the cases studies, scientists stress the need for ongoing research regarding the disease. The causes of Alzheimer’s are not completely understood, but are starting to understand how it affects the brain. Neurons, the cells responsible for communication throughout the brain, are destroyed as the disease progresses.
There is no test to diagnose dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Organization doctor’s refer to the medical history of the patient and include a physical examination, laboratory tests and characteristic changes in thinking, day-to –day function and behavioral changes. The results of the combination of these will indicate the presence of dementia with a high level of certainty, but it is harder to determine the exact type. According to the association, that is because the symptoms and brain changes of the various types can overlap and often doctors don’t specify the type of dementia.
Neurologists and gero-psychologists are more specialized when it comes to understanding these overlaps and can often make a more specific diagnosis and often cases of Alzheimer’s Diseas can only be definitely diagnosed after the death of the patient. Sections of the brain will reveal the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibillary tangles, which are unique to Alzheimer’s disease.
As the degeneration of the dementia takes place in a patient, the outward symptoms change, and as with any disease, the progression varies. These begin with short-term memory issues and with time speaking and daily functions. Often, patients will also have depression and neuropsychiatric symptoms, which include delusions or hallucinations.
According to the National Institute on Aging, these changes start from the parts of the brain responsible for memory, including the hippocampus and continue towards the cerebral vortex, the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and perceiving information. Typically symptoms first appear in patients in their mid-60s.
Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia and death rates associated with the disease have more than doubled in the 85 to 89 age group, compared to the 90 to 94 group. Considering the high level of care these cases require, it comes as no surprise that 60.4% of deaths due to dementia occurred in long-term care facilities, hospice care or nursing homes.
Patients and families often feel isolated because of the disease, but with so many people now affected, there is no need for them to feel that information and help is not available.