“Dementia” refers to several diseases that result in memory loss, mood changes and communication problems, according to literature from the Alzheimer’s Association. But they all consist of destruction of brain tissue, said Dr. Susan Vaught, director of psychology at Western State Hospital.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form. It results from protein “plaques” and “tangles” developing in the brain’s structure and killing off brain cells, the Alzheimer’s Society reports.
Usually it affects the newest memories first, Vaught said. This may explain why Tommy Hunt didn’t understand his father was dead.
Patients may lose their sense of time and place and forget basic facts about themselves, such as their age.
Vascular dementia results from a vascular disease, such as a stroke, cutting off the brain’s oxygen supply and thereby killing brain cells. It can result in visual misperceptions, such as seeing a rug as a pond, and in hallucinations and bowel incontinence.
Dementia with Lewy bodies occurs when tiny protein deposits build up in nerve cells and disrupt the brain’s functions. Vaught once knew a patient with Lewy bodies dementia who thought a red sports car was following her everywhere.
Because depression and other mental illnesses are the result of a chemical imbalance, medications often help cure or alleviate them. But medications can’t reverse brain damage — so they can’t cure dementia, Vaught said.
And dementia gets worse over time as more brain cells die.
Three years ago, 50,942 of Kentucky’s nursing home residents had cognitive impairment, the Alzheimer’s Society reports.
Almost one in seven Kentucky senior citizens had Alzheimer’s in 2010. This means 80,000 Alzheimer’s patients. The number will likely reach 87,000 by 2020, the organization reports.