Frequently asked questions about dementias

What is neurodegenerative dementia?

Neurodegenerative dementias are progressive disorders of the brain that cause the gradual loss of cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning and language. These diseases include Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia, among others.

Is dementia and Alzheimer's the same thing?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are two concepts that tend to generate some confusion, and are often used as synonyms, although they are generally closely linked, they are not exactly the same thing. Dementia is any progressive and irreversible loss of cognitive, motor and social abilities… although this loss can be caused by a wide variety of causes, as many as there are types of dementia. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (hence the confusion with the term dementia), but there are other types such as dementia due to Lewy Bodies, frontotemporal or vascular dementia, which are not related to Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, you can have dementia and not have Alzheimer’s, but you cannot have Alzheimer’s and not have dementia.

What causes dementias?

Although since the first description of the disease, much progress has been made in understanding the brain changes that occur in dementias, what causes them is still unknown. However, there is a growing belief that there is no single cause, but that it is the result of a combination of different risk factors.

Is there a cure?

Currently, there is still no treatment that slows down or modifies the evolution of the disease. But the fact that a disease has no cure does not mean that it has no treatment. In all dementias there are medications that help to alleviate the symptoms, contributing to a better quality of life for the ill person and their carers. That is why it is important to know the diagnosis, as well as to keep the reference specialist well informed so that he/she can prescribe and adjust different drugs and their dosage.

However, caregivers are the most important “medicine” that people suffering from this disease have. It is therefore essential that they have resources to help them facilitate their task and promote their well-being, as this will have a direct impact on the quality of care.

Should the diagnosis be communicated to the person with dementia?

It is common for the family to doubt the benefits and harms of communicating the diagnosis to the person with dementia. There is no single answer to this question, as each case is different. The family should assess whether the person’s mental state still allows him or her to receive or understand such information. It can be very useful to find out what they know about their illness and what they want to know. If the person still has sufficient reasoning ability, knowing this will give him/her the possibility to plan his/her future and make decisions regarding his/her care.

Is it hereditary?

Most dementias are not hereditary, although there are genes that confer a greater probability of suffering from the disease, in no case are they determinant. There are other variables, related to lifestyle, which have a modulating effect on its expression.

Are there risk factors for developing neurodegenerative dementias?

Yes, there are known risk factors, such as older age, family history of dementia, presence of the APOE gene and history of traumatic brain injury. In addition, lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity, poor diet and smoking may also increase the risk.

Can neurodegenerative dementias be prevented?

It is not possible to completely prevent the development of neurodegenerative dementias, but it has been observed that leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, maintaining an active social life, stimulating the brain with cognitively challenging activities and controlling vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

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