Alzheimer’s disease among many types of dementia

By Marisa Pifer, B.A.

When we reach a certain age (you’re probably already there), we begin to worry about health problems that never concerned us in our youth. Alzheimer’s disease often is near the top of the list, but its symptoms can be confused with other types of brain changes.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common among a group of neurocognitive (brain) disorders that cause dementia, or a decline in one or more major thinking abilities.  Common thinking abilities affected by dementia include learning new things, creating new memories, planning, communication and language abilities, attention and visual perception. Individuals with one of these disorders have difficulty completing everyday tasks on their own, or their safety may be at risk (such as when driving, cooking, or taking medications).

These disorders will gradually worsen over time. Major neurocognitive disorders include Alzheimer’s disease as well as other types of dementia, such as Frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Lewy body disease, vascular disease, prion disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. While all of these diseases occur in the brain and involve a decline in thinking abilities, each is caused by different brain processes that vary in how they impact a person’s ability to function.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease usually begin with difficulty in forming new memories, learning new things, and planning and organizing thoughts. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, a person may have difficulty communicating, such as trouble with word-finding.

An individual also may have trouble with depth perception, causing falls or bruises by running into furniture or walls. Symptoms may decline over a period of about 10 years, though some people with Alzheimer’s disease can live up to 20 years after a diagnosis.  Alzheimer’s disease is more prevalent among adults in their 80s or 90s; the less common early-onset forms appear when people are in their 50s or 60s. Alzheimer’s disease occurs in about 5-10 percent of people in their 70s and in about 25 percent of people above the age of 80.

If you are experiencing changes in your thinking abilities or are caring for someone with dementia, many community resources are available to help. The UCCS Aging Center provides eight free caregiver counseling sessions, supported by the PPACG Area Agency on Aging, as well as brief memory screens or more in-depth cognitive assessments.

The Aging Center also is hosting a screening of “I’ll Be Me,” chronicling musician Glen Campbell’s farewell tour after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. The event will be held Thursday, Nov. 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Ent Center for the Arts, including a panel discussion/Q&A and free refreshments by MacKenzie Place Senior Living. Attendance is free, but tickets are required: https://tickets.uccspresents.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=802

Voluntary donations will benefit the UCCS Aging Center’s Give! campaign. Purchase your tickets now, as space is limited! For more information, call the UCCS Aging Center at (719) 255-8002 or the Ent Center box office at 255-3232.

Marissa Pifer, B.A., is a clinical geropsychology doctoral student at UCCS who is completing her practicum at the UCCS Aging Center. For more information, contact her at mpifer@uccs.edu or call the Aging Center at (719) 255-8002.

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