Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

Podcast   |   By HumanGood


Below is a transcript of the podcast “Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease” with Miryam Surden.



Welcome to this special series, where Miryam Surden, Memory Support program manager at The Mansion at Rosemont, will discuss topics of interest to family members of someone who is served by HumanGood's Memory Support program.

Today, Miryam is going to talk about the wide variety of types of memory loss and the resultant variety of symptoms and milestones in diagnosis. Let's begin.


Supporting People You Love Who Are Living with Dementia

Hello, and welcome to this audio resource for families. My name is Miryam Surden, and I am the Memory Support program manager at The Mansion at Rosemont in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The focus of this session is understanding dementia. We will discuss what dementia is and what Alzheimer's disease is and how both can be diagnosed.

Our mission at HumanGood is to help older adults live their best lives — however they define it. The products and services we offer are designed to support those we serve, their families and our team members in the pursuit of an engaged, purposeful life. When it comes to our Memory Support program, the best way for us to embrace our mission is by immersing ourselves in the life of each person living with dementia, wherever they are at in their journey. 

We respect and honor each person living with dementia as they are now at this point in time, and we build on their strengths to provide them with their best lives. This philosophy is the reasoning behind the name Immerse™, which is the name of our Memory Support program at HumanGood.


Understanding Dementia vs. Alzheimer's Disease

I would like to first start off by explaining the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease. 

Dementia is the general term for symptoms, including a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills. Alzheimer's disease is a specific brain disease that accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Dementia describes a group of symptoms that are associated with a decline in memory, reasoning and other thinking skills. Various conditions can cause dementia, and so dementia manifests itself differently in each individual. 


About the Types and Causes of Dementia

I would like to point out that dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is caused when damage occurs to our brain cells that affects their ability to communicate with one another, which can affect thinking, behavior and feelings. There are various types of dementia, including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal, mixed dementia and Alzheimer's disease, which will be our focus today.

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following damage to the brain cells. It is important to remember that Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of the aging process. 

Decoding Dementia: Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

The causes of Alzheimer's disease aren't completely understood, but what we do know is that shrinkage, inflammation, blood vessel damage and breakdown of energy within our cells may harm the neurons and the effectiveness of other brain cells. Likewise, Alzheimer's disease may be passed down by a family member based off any changes or differences in our genes. 

Quality of life might also play a role — things like environment, exposure to pollutants and a person's current medical condition. Again, developing any type of dementia is not a normal part of the aging process, and there are many factors that could contribute to the disease.


Symptoms and Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain that is associated with learning first. Symptoms can progress to include disorientation, confusion and behavior changes. Eventually, speaking, swallowing and breathing become difficult.

There are seven stages of dementia, which are broken down into three categories:

  1. Early stage, also known as mild cognitive impairment

  2. Middle stage, known as moderate cognitive impairment

  3. Late stage, where severe cognitive impairment is easily identified

1. Early Stage

When someone is living with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, they may be functioning independently. For instance, they could be driving, working or even being social. However, they may have some lapses in their memory, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. 

2. Middle Stage

Middle-stage Alzheimer's disease typically lasts the longest and can last for many years. During this stage, individuals may have symptoms that are more pronounced, such as confusing words, becoming frustrated or angry and acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. It may also become more difficult for people to express their thoughts, and they may need more assistance in completing routine tasks.

It is important to note that people are still able to complete and participate in daily activities with assistance [during this stage]. Ensuring that we know what a person can do and then simplifying the tasks as needed will be important when wanting our loved one to have a good quality of life and still feel that they have a purpose. 

3. Late Stage

In the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, individuals lose their ability to respond to their environment, to carry conversations and eventually, to control their movements. Individuals may also still be able to say some words or phrases, but it becomes more difficult to communicate their different needs. 

At this stage, more symptoms may manifest, including losing awareness of recent experiences, experiencing changes in their physical abilities, difficulty communicating and becoming vulnerable to infections. 24-hour assistance with daily personal care may become necessary at this point.


What an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Means

To have a full diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, one would need to seek out a specialist, such as a neurologist, for further testing. The test a neurologist might conduct measures various signs of the disease, like the change of brain size or the levels of certain proteins in our brains. 

Treating and Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

While there is no cure for the disease, there are several medicines that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can aid in slowing the progression of the disease early on and manage some of the symptoms.

While we do not know what causes dementia or Alzheimer's disease, there are many factors that can come into play. For example, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs can increase one's risk of developing a form of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Likewise, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects and depression can all impact the likelihood of someone developing the disease.

However, here are some things that can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease:

  • Engaging in physical exercise regularly

  • Drinking less alcohol

  • Not smoking

  • Staying mentally and socially active

  • Reducing any environmental risk factors

  • Managing any long-term health conditions you may have 


It is important to remember that a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's disease affects each person differently. As the Immerse™ motto goes, "When you've met one person living with dementia, you've met one person living with dementia." And, "There are no two fingerprints alike." Each person experiences dementia or Alzheimer's disease differently. It is also important to remember that just because you have the diagnosis, this does not mean you have to stop doing everything you love to do.



I hope the information provided in this podcast will help you and your loved one engage in many more meaningful interactions. Remember, at HumanGood, we are here to support you as well as your loved one. Please don't hesitate to ask questions and/or share anything you notice with a team member. We appreciate your partnership in providing the best life for your loved one.

Thank you for your time listening to this recording. I hope you found it to be helpful to you in understanding dementia. If you have any suggestions for future topics, reach out to the Memory Support leadership team.

As Miryam said, the Memory Support team and your community are here to be your advocate. Reach out to them with questions or potential topics for which you would like further education. Thanks for listening, and we wish you peace on the journey with the people you love.

This has been an educational resource developed by HumanGood's Immerse™ program.

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