What’s Dementia And Is It Fatal?

Dementia is an umbrella term describing several diseases with damage to brain neurons which causes progressive memory loss, resulting in confusion, which changes personality and behavior, which in turn interferes with social and occupational life, and in the end finally leaves the person dependent on others for all their care.

There are several types of dementia:  Alzheimer’s, the most common, accounts for approximately 65% of dementias, and is caused by abnormal proteins; Vascular type (about 15%), is from strokes; with others, such as Lewy-Body type, and Frontal-temporal Dementia, making up the remainder.    

Unfortunately, there is no cure and all are fatal.  The average life expectancy for Alzheimer’s is less than five years, although some may live 10-12 years.

Many consider dementia to be worse than cancer, robbing the family of a personality they knew so well.   Because of that, it’s important to diagnose early so patients can make an Advance Directive that reflects their goals so that they, and their families, live more comfortably—and avoid unnecessary suffering.

An excellent article describing dementia and the difficult decisions it may require, was written by Katy Butler in the NY Times June 20/10—My Father’s Broken Heart:  how putting in a pacemaker wrecked by family’s life.  [read it on-line at  the NY Times archives, or find the link on my website comfortcarechoices.com]. 
Next time I’ll discuss treatment options for dementia.