what is alzheimer's disease?

6 Questions to Test Your Knowledge of Alzheimer's Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide March 22, 2012
  • It’s exam time at HealthCentral.com’s Alzheimer’s site to learn what you know about Alzheimer’s disease. This is a true/false/maybe test and you get to grade your own paper, but don’t cheat!! See if you know the latest and greatest about this disease. Here's the test:


    1.    Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia.


    2.    Having memory problems means that a person has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.


    3.    Alzheimer’s can be cured.


    4.    Alzheimer’s can be prevented.


    5.    Alzheimer’s follows a linear path so that the person with it continually declines mentally.


    6.    People die from Alzheimer’s disease.


    Pencils down and let’s grade your responses.


    Question 1 – True. The Mayo Clinic stated, “The word ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms including impairment in memory, reasoning, judgment, language and other thinking skills. Dementia begins gradually in most cases, worsens over time and significantly impairs a person’s abilities in work, social interactions and relationships.” Types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease (which is the most common type of dementia), vascular dementia (also known as multi-infarct dementia), frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia, and AIDS dementia complex. Each of these types of dementia differs; interestingly, memory impairment isn’t always the first sign that the person has a problem.


    Question 2 – False. Having memory problems does not indicate that someone has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. For instance, my father uncharacteristically started having memory issues where he would start sentences but then trail off in mid-sentence, leaving the critical points unspoken. I’d ask him what his point was, and he couldn’t remember.  But his lapses were much different than my mother’s, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I had Dad talk to his doctor because I was worried that his issues were a warning sign for a stroke, based on a new Harvard study that found that seniors who died from a stroke often suffered severe and rapid memory loss prior to the fatal stroke. And another time, the doctor linked Dad's memory lapses to one of the pain medications he was taking.


    So what are the signs of Alzheimer’s disease? The Alzheimer’s Association has identified 10 warning signs which include:

    • Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
    • Challenges in planning or solving problems.
    • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
    • Confusion with time or place.
    • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
    • New problems with words in speaking or writing.
    • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
    • Decreased or poor judgment.
    • Withdrawal from work or social activities.
    • Changes in mood or personality.

    Question 3 – False. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Question 4 – Maybe. There hasn’t been a definitive answer, although some research has emerged that suggests that that lifestyle decisions -- such as diet, exercise, education – can help maintain overall health as well as reduce risk factors for getting Alzheimer’s. My motto is that we should all be proactive in doing the most we can, such as eating a Mediterranean diet and trying new things, in order to exercise our brain. It can’t hurt, and possibly can help.


    Question 5 – False. While the person with Alzheimer’s does experience mental decline, their day-to-day ability to function may vary widely. For instance, when my mother was in an Alzheimer’s unit in an area nursing home, some friends who hadn’t seen her since the diagnosis came for a visit. On that particular day, Mom was “on” mentally, so much so that my friends thought that she sounded completely there and they couldn’t believe that she was in an Alzheimer’s unit.  The next day, though, Mom was barely functioning.  So the best gauge is to use the stages of Alzheimer’s to determine where a loved one is, but realize that wide variation.


    Question 6 – Maybe. A person definitely can die from Alzheimer’s disease; in fact, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. However, people with Alzheimer’s can have other diseases that may prove fatal. For instance, my mother also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which ultimately killed her. However, I believe that Alzheimer’s disease worked together with COPD to cause her physical decline.


    Hopefully this test helped you learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and you’ll resolve to keep educating yourself. The good news is that there’s an increased focus on this disease, which has resulted in renewed research efforts. So there’s going to be more to learn in the near future – and hopefully, some of these announcements will include a cure!

     

    Primary Sources:

    - Mayo Clinic. (2011). Alzheimer's Disease.

    - Alzheimer's Association. (2012). 10 Signs of Alzheimer's. Chicago, IL: Alzheimer's Association National Office.