Dementia is a general term that refers to severe memory loss and problems with thinking, behavior, and social skills that interfere with daily life. According to the National Institutes of Health, this neurological condition affects one in seven adults over age 71.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. It makes up 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most cases of Alzheimer’s occur when people reach their 70s and 80s.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for many dementia cases. However, other types of dementia are distinct from Alzheimer’s disease, such as vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Alzheimer’s disease differs from other diseases involving dementia when it comes to its symptoms, effects on the brain, and treatments.

Alzheimer’s Disease

The most prevalent type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is the fifth-leading cause of death for adults 65 and over. The illness is marked by difficulty remembering recent events. People with Alzheimer’s can usually recall the past but have trouble remembering what transpired recently.

An individual with Alzheimer’s disease may be able to tell you about their childhood in detail but not about the previous day’s events. As the condition progresses, people can have challenges walking and talking and may experience personality changes.

Physicians believe that a buildup of proteins in the brain causes Alzheimer’s. The disease degrades neurons and their connections in parts of the brain involved in memory. It also leads to lesions forming in the brain, preventing those affected from storing new memories.

As the disease progresses, the brain shrinks. To treat Alzheimer’s, doctors prescribe medicine targeting the lesions in the brain.

In some cases, people can inherit a genetic predisposition for the condition. According to the CDC, a parent with Alzheimer’s increases a person’s risk by between 10 percent and 30 percent. However, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that the genetic link is more robust in early-onset Alzheimer’s. Adults with early-onset Alzheimer’s show symptoms beginning in their 60s.

Lewy Body Dementia

After Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common type of dementia. People with LBD often also have Alzheimer’s. LBD impairs areas of the brain involved in problem-solving and reasoning. It is related to Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder affecting movement.

Symptoms of LBD include:

  • Disruption in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, where most dreaming occurs
  • Poor regulation of body functions due to problems with the autonomic nervous system
  • Movement difficulties, such as rigid muscles and slow movement
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Cognitive issues, such as confusion, diminished attention, and memory loss

In the brain, an abnormal buildup of proteins, known as Lewy bodies, causes LBD. These proteins are related to Parkinson’s. People with LBD also have the same kind of brain lesions as those with Alzheimer’s.

When individuals receive an LBD diagnosis, physicians often prescribe medications for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Like Alzheimer’s, advanced age is the most significant predictor of LBD. However, a stroke increases a person’s risk of developing the disease.

Vascular Dementia

Although vascular dementia shares symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss, there are significant distinctions. The characteristic symptom of vascular dementia is slow speaking and thinking, as well as trouble with problem-solving.

Vascular dementia can happen when a stroke blocks a blood vessel in the brain. In many cases, more strokes follow, and the symptoms become more severe with each additional stroke.

Conditions that harm blood vessels and impair circulation can prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, leading to vascular dementia. Treating vascular dementia typically encompasses treating the underlying conditions. For example, a person with hypertension might focus on taking steps to lower their blood pressure.

People who have vascular dementia tend to experience symptoms earlier than those with Alzheimer’s, commonly between ages 60 and 75.

Other Types of Dementia

In addition to Alzheimer’s, LBD, and vascular dementia, many other types of dementia exist, including:

  • Frontotemporal dementia — Impairs the front and sides of the brain. People with frontotemporal dementia tend to develop the disease younger than those with other forms of dementia. The average age of onset is between 45 and 65.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — Occurs when proteins infect the brain and cause problems with cognition, memory, balance, speech, vision, and mobility. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is fatal, with most people passing away within a year of diagnosis.
  • Huntington’s disease — A genetic condition that causes dementia. People can inherit Huntington’s from parents with the disease.

Steps to take after an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to start planning immediately. There are several essential documents to help you once you become incapacitated, but if you don’t already have them in place, you need to act quickly after a diagnosis.

Having dementia does not mean an individual is not mentally competent to make planning decisions. The person signing documents must have “testamentary capacity,” which means he or she must understand the implications of what is being signed. Simply having a form of mental illness or disease does not mean that you automatically lack the required mental capacity. As long as you have periods of lucidity, you may still be competent to sign planning documents.

4 Essential Documents for Someone Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s:

Power of Attorney.

A power of attorney is the most important estate planning document for someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. A power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf once you become incapacitated. Without a power of attorney, your family would be unable to pay your bills or manage your household without going to court and getting a guardianship, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process. For more information about powers of attorney, click here.

Health Care Proxy.

A health care proxy, like a power of attorney, allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for medical decisions. It will ensure that your medical treatment instructions are carried out. For more information about health care proxies, click here.

Medical Directive or Living Will.

Medical directives and living wills explain what type of care you would like if you are unable to direct your own care. A medical directive can include a health care proxy or it can be a separate document. It may contain directions to refuse or remove life support in the event you are in a coma or a vegetative state or it may provide instructions to use all efforts to keep you alive, no matter what the circumstances. For more information about medical directives, click here.

Will and Other Estate Planning Documents.

In addition to making sure you have people to act for you and your wishes are clear, you should make sure your estate plan is up to date, or if you don’t have an estate plan, you should draw one up.  Your estate plan directs who will receive your property when you die. Once you are deemed incapacitated, you will no longer be able to create an estate plan. An estate plan usually consists of a will, and often nonprobate assets as well. Your will is your legally binding statement on who will receive your property when you die, while nonprobate assets are mechanisms for passing on your property outside of probate. For more information about estate planning, click here

In addition to executing these documents, it is also important to create a plan for long-term care. Long-term care is expensive and draining for family members. Developing a plan now for what type of care you would like and how to pay for it will help your family later on. To assist you in completing your comprehensive estate plan, contact us today to schedule an appointment to review your options.

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