Understanding Alzheimer's and Dementia

September 26, 2019

"There are a few basic holistic things you can do to improve your brain health."

In today’s live show, with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, we’re talking about age-associated cognitive decline. Dr. Nancy will discuss how to recognize the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as what we can do to boost brain health naturally in order to delay or even prevent accelerated memory decline, and keep us sharper for longer.

Video Highlights

  • 02:49: Cognitive Decline Facts
  • 06:18: The Difference Between Alzheimer’s And Dementia
  • 07:26: Dementia
  • 14:25: Alzheimer’s Disease
  • 17:53: Holistic Ways to Improve Brain Health
  • 26:23: Wrap-Up

In part 1 of this series, we’ll try to get a better understanding of the different types of memory decline. Then in part 2, Dr. Nancy will cover what you need to know about caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

Cognitive Decline Facts

Let’s start with a bit of trivia.

  • 50 million people have been diagnosed with dementia worldwide. Isn’t that staggering? And the sad reality is, many of those people are suffering alone, without anyone to help care for them. 
  • Because life expectancy continues to increase, and as baby boomers move into their advanced years, the number of seniors afflicted with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase in the United States, reaching 14 million Americans. 
  • More women than men over the age of 55 will get dementia. Once they are over the age of 55, one out of six women will get dementia, and one out of 10 men will be diagnosed.
  • Someone is diagnosed with dementia every 3 seconds, and someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds.
  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death, killing more people than those with breast and prostate cancer combined

The Difference Between Alzheimer’s And Dementia

The first difference is that dementia is a syndrome, while Alzheimer’s is a disease. Dementia is an “umbrella term” under which Alzheimer’s falls. It is a grouping of symptoms that signify a decline in memory, as well as a decline in communication capabilities and the ability to perform regular, daily activities. 

Neither dementia nor Alzheimer’s are a natural or inevitable part of aging. You are not guaranteed to get one or the other once you reach your advanced years. 

Dementia

Dementia occurs when cells within the brain become damaged. Certain degenerative diseases like Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease can cause dementia, as can

  • HIV
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Chronic drug use
  • Vascular diseases

In fact, there is a specific type of dementia known as vascular dementia that occurs as a result of not enough blood flowing to the brain. Again, a stroke can be a leading contributor in being diagnosed with this form of dementia, but so can:

Another form of dementia you may be familiar with is Lewy body dementia. After actor Robin Williams passed away it was discovered that he was diagnosed with this form of dementia.

Those suffering from Lewy body dementia develop balance issues, which puts them at an increased risk of falling. They may hallucinate, become excessively sleepy, or have a waning attention span. They also might develop a tremor, as well as exhibit many of the typical signs associated with dementia, which include:

  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Memory loss

As with the other forms of dementia, it is unclear what, exactly, is the cause. Lewy body dementia, however, does involve a buildup of Lewy bodies in the nerve cells of the brain. Lewy bodies are a specific type of protein deposits called alpha-synuclein. This form of dementia gets its name after the scientist who discovered it, Friedrich H. Lewy. 

7 Stages Of Dementia

Stage 1 — No cognitive decline, or no dementia

During this stage, a person is functioning normally. They have no memory loss or bouts of forgetfulness. 

Stage 2 — Very mild cognitive decline 

At this point, there is still no presence of dementia. This stage is labeled as normal forgetfulness that occurs as an unfortunate by-product of aging. At this point, the person might find themselves forgetting people’s names, or where they left something like car keys or glasses. 

Stage 3 — Mild cognitive decline, also no dementia 

At this point, a person might become more forgetful; they can’t concentrate as well as they used to, or they might even see a decline in their performance at work. They might struggle to find the right words, or even start to get lost. This stage usually lasts anywhere between 2 and 7 years, and there is a noticeable cognitive decline. 

Stage 4 — Moderate cognitive decline, also known as early stage dementia 

By now, short-term memory loss starts to occur and difficulty concentrating increases even more. Denial sets in as patients at this stage can no longer complete complex tasks and have trouble socializing. This stage lasts about 2 years. 

Stage 5 — Moderately severe cognitive decline, or mid-stage dementia

This is the point where major memory issues are happening. A person might not know their address, where they are, or what day or year it is. Performing regular, daily tasks starts to become a challenge. This stage typically lasts about a year and a half.

Stage 6 — Severe cognitive decline, also known as mid-stage or middle dementia

Assistance performing daily tasks is needed by the time a person reaches Stage 6 of dementia. Details of their early life are still intact, but they likely won’t be able to recall what they did the day before. They might also forget the names of loved ones. Speech declines, as well as normal bodily functions. There might be some personality changes, as well as some compulsive behavior, increased anxiety, and increased agitation at the inability to do formerly easy things like count backward from 10. This stage lasts about 2 and a half years.

Stage 7 — Very severe cognitive decline, or late dementia 

In Stage 7 of dementia, which lasts anywhere from a year and a half to 2 and a half years, a person often loses the ability to speak or communicate. They would likely need assistance doing almost anything, including bathing, eating, and going to the bathroom, and might also lose the ability to walk.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes memory and cognitive function to decline over time. Like dementia, damaged brain cells are the cause; however, the damage is done years before symptoms ever even start to present themselves. 

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, researchers do know it is caused by brain cells dying when the connection between the cells is lost due to plaque buildup and tangled brain fibers. In severe Alzheimer’s cases, the brain actually becomes smaller. 

3 Stages of Alzheimer’s

Stage 1 — Early stage, or mild Alzheimer’s

In the early stage of Alzheimer’s a person is still autonomous and able to take care of themselves on their own, but they may start to have trouble remembering someone’s name, start forgetting words that are familiar to them, and start misplacing things and forgetting where they are. Additionally, they might lose focus easily and find they are unable to accomplish things in social settings with a lot of people around. 

Stage 2 — Middle stage, also known as moderate Alzheimer’s

This is the longest stage of Alzheimer’s and can last for years. On average, when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they live up to 8 years with the disease — although, some people live as long as 20 years with Alzheimer’s. 

In the middle stage, a person’s ability to perform daily, regular tasks becomes even more difficult and memory loss becomes more severe. This is the point where they may be unable to recall significant details about their own life. They may also become irritable or confused as to what day it is or what their address is. They may start to wander or start to lose control of bodily functions. Repetitive behavior sometimes occurs at this stage, like tissue-shredding or repeatedly wringing the hands. 

Stage 3 — Late stage, or severe Alzheimer’s

In the third and final stage of Alzheimer’s a person is going to need constant care in order to complete daily activities. They may no longer be able to walk, sit or even swallow. Short-term memory loss occurs at this stage, as does difficulty communicating. People in the late stage of Alzheimer’s are also more prone to infection as their immune system weakens. 

Holistic Ways to Improve Brain Health

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, as with most things, early detection is key. Regular cognitive assessments can help with early diagnosis, which is something not many seniors are currently doing. In fact, only 16% of seniors report getting regular cognitive assessments. 

Early detection may help delay the onset of symptoms, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, and improve your quality of life. There are certain medications available that claim to help treat some of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, especially memory loss, but unfortunately there is no cure. There are a few basic holistic things you can do to improve your brain health. 

Oil up

Organic, cold-pressed, virgin, non-hydrogenated coconut oil may be able to help ward off Alzheimer’s and dementia. One study conducted by the University of Oxford showed that those suffering from either disease saw temporary benefits relating to their syndrome or disease associated with coconut oil. It is believed to improve brain health because it boosts ketones, chemicals produced in the liver that help improve cognitive function. 

An easy way to add some coconut oil to your daily routine is to stir a little in your morning coffee, smoothie, or herbal tea.  

Be a social butterfly 

Having strong relationships, as well as having a diverse friend group, is proven to help challenge you to think more creatively.

Keep your Attitude in Check 

Maintaining a positive attitude and believing in yourself and your abilities has also been proven to improve cognitive function

Basic Daily Nutritional Supplements

Take a high-quality food-based multivitamin and mineral each day. Don’t leave this to chance! Dr. Nancy recommends taking our Smarter Multivitamin to ensure you are not deficient in essential vitamins and minerals that support the long-term health of your brain, including B vitamins, boron, zinc, and magnesium. Also take a daily probiotic like Smarter Nutrition’s Gut Health to make sure you are constantly supplying your gut with healthy, active probiotics as a way to support your digestive health, your immune system, and the health of your brain and nervous system.

Get enough sleep

We advocate this one a lot. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night gives your brain the opportunity and time it needs to download and process everything you’ve done that day. 

Eat right

This is another one always talk about. Whole foods like:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Berries
  • Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and other oily fish high in omega-3s
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Lean proteins like chicken and turkey

have all been proven to have positive effects on memory, mental alertness, and cognitive function. 

Take a deep breath...

…or two or three. Deep breathing and mindfulness techniques can improve memory and concentration. Research has also shown that doing some deep breathing on a regular basis can positively impact the brain in the areas responsible for processing information. 

Additionally, deep breathing helps reduce stress, and stress hinders your ability to learn and to problem solve effectively. 

Other things you can do to boost brain power include reading books or tackling puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku. There’s also an app called Neuroracer specifically designed for older adults with the intent to improve cognition through a series of tasks in video game-like form. 

Self-Screen

We hope all this talk about dementia or Alzheimer’s hasn’t caused you to panic just because you’re a little forgetful sometimes. There’s a way to self-check, if you truly have something to be concerned about. 

One of the easiest ways to self-screen for Alzheimer’s and dementia is to use some sort of cognitive impairment screening app. There are a number of them out there, like CogniSense or BrainCheck. One really good one is called BrainTest. The app offers an electronic version of the SAGE test, which stands for Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, and it’s a test intended to detect any memory, cognitive, or thinking impairments. 

The SAGE test is a valid way to assess mental impairments and was created by researchers at the Ohio State University — it has become well-known for its accuracy in detecting Mild Cognitive Impairments, or MCIs, like Alzheimer’s and dementia. The test takes 15 minutes. It is not intended to act as a stand-alone diagnosis. While your test results are followed up with an explanation by a board certified physician, if your results show you might have an MCI, you should always follow up with your actual doctor. 

Be warned, the BrainTest app does cost money after a 30-day free trial period, but you can take the test, get your results within 48 hours and from their cancel your subscription if you want. 

Wrap-Up 

We just unloaded a lot of information on you guys. Today’s show focused on the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia, a disease and syndrome, respectively, that affects a combined 11 million Americans. 

Both are specifically associated with a decline in memory, cognition, and eventually, the ability to perform daily tasks like bathing, going to the bathroom, and even sitting, walking, and swallowing. 

Certain forms of dementia, however, can also present different symptoms that include:

  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Poor balance
  • Apathy and agitation

Alzheimer’s disease progresses in 3 stages, while dementia progresses through 7. Both eventually result in death, and Alzheimer’s is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

Neither dementia nor Alzheimer’s are a natural part of the aging process. While there is evidence that shows you are more likely to get Alzheimer’s if a family member suffers from the disease, it is not a 100% certainty. 

Ways to improve brain health that may help with preventing or prolonging dementia or Alzheimer’s include:

  • Integrate coconut oil and other healthy fats into your daily diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, and make sure you are getting all your daily essential vitamins, minerals, and probiotic support
  • Practice deep breathing techniques
  • Challenge your brain with puzzles and games
  • Surround yourself with a diverse friend group

If you’re concerned you might have a cognitive impairment issue that goes beyond normal forgetfulness, but you’re too embarrassed to talk to your doctor just yet, self-screen with one of the many cognitive screening apps out there on the market to start. If the tests show you do, in fact, have a cognitive impairment, make sure you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician right away so you can start taking measures to manage the issue – and remember, the earlier you diagnose and address any health issue, the better off you will be!

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