understanding dementia, senility, and alzheimer’s

Where to turn for information in Alabama?

Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama
Phone: 205-871-7970 or 866-806-7255
P.O. Box 2273
Birmingham, AL 35201-2273
email: aca@alzca.org

Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama is the largest non-profit organization and resource center in Alabama, serving caregivers and professionals alike.  The goal of ACA is to support:  education, caregiver services, and research.  The objectives of ACA are to:

  • Assist with the cost of respite care, adult day care services, and continence supplies
  • Provide educational opportunities through public seminars, a comprehensive resource center, telephone information and a newsletter
  • Support dementia research
  • Provide advocacy and increase public awareness

ACA serves the following counties:  Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Cleburne, Chilton, Clay, Coosa, Etowah, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lamar, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, and Walker.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the permanent, relentless, progressive loss of many intellectual functions. The word “dementia” comes from the Latin words “de men,” meaning “out of mind.” Dementia is caused by the death of nerve cells.  Once a nerve cell dies, it cannot be replaced and its function may be lost.

Nerve cell death is caused by:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease  60-70%
  • Multiple small strokes  15%
  • Multiple other causes  10-15%

Five to 20% of elderly patients who appear demented have treatable diseases, for example:

  • Depression
  • Hormone imbalance (e.g. hypothyroidism)
  • Drug (medication) induced confusion

What is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)?

Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of dementia, although it is often used synonymously with dementia.
Alois Alzheimer was a German physician who first observed this disease in 1906, in a brain specimen from an autopsy.
There is no clear consensus of why the nerve cells die in the brain of AD patients.

Inheritance plays some role;

  • 5% clearly inheritable (autosomal dominant)
  • 20-60% may have a genetic predisposition

How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Physicians, trained in geriatrics, can diagnose probable Alzheimer’s correctly 80-90% of the time.  An autopsy is necessary for a definitive diagnosis.  A medical workup for dementia includes:

  • Taking a history of the problems of the cognitive and functional difficulties, as well as a family history.
  • A physical examination and blood tests to help rule out treatable conditions.
  • A mental examination and test of baseline intellectual abilities, learning abilities, emotional state, verbal fluency, novel problem solving, sensory-perceptual and motor abilities.
  • A scan of the brain (CT or MRI).

How many people are affected?

  • Approximately 5.4 million Americans are afflicted with AD.  In Alabama, it is estimated that over 90,000 people suffer from dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease is the fourth leading cause of death among adults in America.
  • Approximately 13% of the population over 65 years of age has AD.
  • Forty-seven percent of those over the age of 85 are demented, which is the fastest growing segment of the population in the U.S.
  • Dementia afflicts both men and women in all racial, religious and socioeconomic groups.
  • Sixty percent of all nursing home patients are demented.

What are the symptoms?

Intellectual losses include:

Amnesia:  Loss of memory function.  Distant memories remain clear while recent memories are lost.  Patients lose the ability to store the memory of an event as it occurs; for example, a patient may not remember the course of a conversation from one moment to the next.

Aphasia:  Loss of ability to understand spoken/written word and/or the inability to speak coherently.  Patients may get words confused, jabber insistently or become mute.

Apraxia:  Loss of ability to perform pre-programmed motor tasks or tasks that a normal person completes without any concentration.  Some examples include: buttoning shirt, brushing teeth, writing name, and eating with utensils.

Agnosia:  Loss of ability to remember what things look like including the face of a close relative and even their own reflection in a mirror.

Psychiatric problems include:

  • Major personality changes.
  • Poor judgment, irritability, inappropriate behavior.
  • 25% suffer from depression that should be treated.
  • 30-40% suffer from hallucinations and delusions.
  • 50% of demented individuals will wander or become aggressive.

Non-neurological symptoms:

  • Only the brain is damaged in AD.  Other organ systems are not damaged.
  • Patients have a long survival rate because other organ systems are not damaged.

What is the course of the disease?

No two patients are alike; therefore, no patient’s course is predictable.

Early:  (3 to 5 years – patients need supervision)
Mild amnesia
Good function at home
Few psychiatric symptoms

Middle:  (3 to 10 years – patients need custodial care)
Many intellectual impairments
Poor function at home
Many psychiatric/behavioral problems

Late:  (5 to 20 years – patients require nursing care)
Multiple severe intellectual impairments
Loss of bowel and bladder function
Loss of mobility

What treatment is available?

There are several drugs that have been approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.  For many patients these drugs help delay the progression of the disease.
There are approximately 20 drugs in development for Alzheimer’s disease.
Neither the experimental drugs nor the approved drugs appear to affect the underlying disease process.
Psychiatric symptoms can be treated with medications.

Future therapy will try to prevent the death of nerve cells and maximize the function of surviving nerve cells.
Effective preventive measures are several years into the future.
All patients should be under the care of a physician who is trained in geriatric care, to help guide the family through the care and treatment of this disease.

How can families cope with this disease?

  • Realize that denial of the problem will not make it go away.
  • Education about the disease should be the family’s first line of defense.
  • Seek out knowledgeable, caring physician who will work with you to manage the patient’s behavior problems, as well as their physical symptoms.
  • Plan ahead. Take care of financial issues and issues like a living will and durable power of attorney.
  • Seek out services that will ease your burden like adult day care, Meals on Wheels, and local support groups.
  • Remember Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama is here to help!

For more information, contact:
Miller Piggott, Executive Director
Phone: 871-7970 or 866-806-7255
300 Office Park Drive Suite 225
Email: aca@alzca.org
Birmingham, AL 35223

PO Box 2273
Birmingham, AL 35201-2273

safety and activities products and information


Independent Living Aids, Inc.
Adaptive aids for assistance with activities of daily living.

One Step Ahead
Mostly products for early developmental (baby stage) but has some safety items that may be useful.

The Safety Zone
Products for home safety.


BiFolkal Productions, Inc.
Creating opportunities for older adults to remember and share their stories, aids for reflection and expression.

Eldersong Publications, Inc.
Creative materials for older adults: mind joggers, trivia, music therapy, and reminiscing.
1-800-397-0533  //  www.eldersong.com

source and resources
alzheimer’s care and prevention

Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama

ACA is the largest non profit organization in the state dedicated to providing education, advocacy, services and research related to Alzheimer’s.  ACA offers scholarships for dementia patients to receive continence products, attend adult day care centers, and for in-home respite.  In partnership with the Sheriff’s Department, ACA coordinates Project Lifesaver, a program to help locate patients who have wandered and become lost.  ACA sponsors one or two annual research projects.  Our newsletter, support groups and community lectures are designed to help families learn more about the disease and how to cope.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA)
(866)-AFA-8484 (toll free)

AFA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is ”to provide optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families—through member organizations dedicated to improving quality of life.”  ACA is a member of this organization, which offers services such as a toll-free hot line staffed by licensed social workers, educational materials and conferences, a telephone support network and a care ADvantage, a magazine for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Prevention Foundation International

Newsletter and info on prevention of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center

ADEAR offers information and publications on diagnosis, treatment, patient care, caregiver needs, long term care, education and training and research related to AD.  You can order free copies of a new booklet Genes, Lifestyle and Crossword Puzzles:  Can Alzheimer’s be Prevented?

Lisa Snyder, MSW, LCSW
UCSD Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
A newsletter for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or a Related Disorder
$20 for four issues

Ageless Design Research Foundation
Sends a daily email of Alzheimer’s related news and research worldwide.  There is no cost to receive this email (donations are accepted).  They also have a website of products for dementia caregiving.

Print Version: Understanding Dementia (GREEN SHEETS)