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Coping with Memory Loss

Other Diseases That Cause Dementia

Dementia is diagnosed when two or more brain functions, such as memory and language skills, are significantly impaired, according to criteria set forth by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). In practice, doctors use the same drugs that are used to treat AD to treat some other types of dementia.

Vascular dementia. In people who have vascular dementia, also called multi-infarct dementia, arteries to the brain become blocked or narrowed. As a result, changes in the blood supply to the brain occur or multiple strokes disrupt blood flow to the brain. Symptoms may be similar to those of AD, although they usually occur more abruptly. Treatment focuses on preventing future strokes by controlling risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Lewy body dementia. This progressive brain disease is caused by a buildup of protein deposits called Lewy bodies. It involves progressive cognitive decline, problems with alertness and attention, recurrent visual hallucinations, and motor problems similar to those seen with Parkinson's disease, such as rigidity. Treatment aims to control symptoms of the disorder. Antipsychotic medications for hallucinations aren't typically prescribed because there is a risk of the hallucinations becoming worse.

Parkinson's disease with dementia. Parkinson's disease results from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The primary symptoms are trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; body stiffness; and slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination. Memory loss sometimes occurs with late-stage Parkinson's disease. Exelon (rivastigmine), which is approved for mild-to-moderate AD, is also approved by the FDA for the treatment of dementia with Parkinson's disease.

Frontotemporal dementia. This type of dementia is associated with the shrinking of the frontal and temporal anterior lobes of the brain. Symptoms involve either impulsive or listless behavior, and may include socially inappropriate behavior. Some forms of frontotemporal dementia consist of progressive loss of language functions. No treatment has been shown to slow the progression. Antidepressants and behavior modification may improve some symptoms.

Huntington's disease. This inherited brain disorder causes uncontrolled movements, loss of memory and other cognitive problems, and emotional disturbance. Some early symptoms are mood swings, depression, and difficulty learning new things and remembering facts. Medications help control emotional and movement problems.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). In the early stages of this rare, degenerative brain disorder, people may experience failing memory, behavioral changes, lack of coordination, and visual disturbances. Mental impairment becomes rapidly more severe as the illness progresses. There is no drug to cure or control CJD, but some drugs may help with symptoms.

Resources for Coping

Coping with memory loss can be frustrating for both the person affected and family members and caregivers. Some families use memory aids to help quality of life, such as color coding and labeling items in the home with safety notes and directions for use, and using alarms and talking clocks to keep track of time and remember medication doses. Families also may experience anger, exhaustion, irritability, and other symptoms of caregiver stress.

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