Alzheimer's Disease: Epidemic or Misdiagnosis?
For those who are skeptical of statistics, recent news reporting Alzheimer's disease to be higher than previously estimated will probably seem to be confirming evidence.
Others, especially critics in the medical community, have long suspected that improper diagnosis has often confused the conditions of dementia, senility, pseudosenility and Alzheimer's disease.
The following reports are based on questions posed to experts in gerontology and scientific research in brain failure. Documented reports from medical textbooks and case histories comprise much of the inquiry.
Q: How is dementia defined? What are its symptoms? A: Dementia implies general impairment of mental functions,
including language, the inability to think abstractly, loss of sense
of time and place, emotional instability, and difficulty in taking
care of oneself.
Q: Is dementia an inevitable part of aging? A: Old age is not synonymous with loss of intellectual functioning.
We know that many people live into their eighties, nineties and
even beyond without a measurable decline compared to youth or
Conversely, some individuals suffer from decline in their
forties, fifties and sixties. It should also be noted that when these
brain function changes take place in younger people they are not
accompanied by physical changes characterized as old age. Nor
is weakness a manifestation of middle-age brain failure (presenile
Q: This "infirmity of the mind" termed dementia, how does
it differ from Alzheimer's disease? A: Dementia is the general term for brain failure and it covers many
conditions, some of which are reversible with good prospects for
recovery; actual brain damage usually has not taken place.
Alzheimer's disease is one particular condition in which the brain's
cells are dying and plaque formations have begun to accumulate,
impairing functions. Recovery from Alzheimer's disease has
occurred infrequently. It is usually incurable.
Q: Since the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease often mimic the
other dementias, what are the chances of misdiagnosis? A: There are many disorders that cause dementia or simulate the
condition. Because Alzheimer's disease is not readily understood
by many in the medical profession, the chances of misdiagnosis
Psychiatric disorders, such as depression, are often mistaken
for dementia. Drugs and medications can cause personality
changes mistakenly identified. Nutritional disorders are
frequently implicated. The list is long and the probability of error
great. A discussion of these conditions follows in this report.
Q: Does hardening of the arteries contribute to Alzheimer's
disease? A: The hardening of the arteries theory (arteriosclerosis) has been
abandoned in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Autopsies of
individuals who suffered from various forms of dementia other
than Alzheimer's disease usually did not show arteriosclerotic
causes, whereas the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of
Alzheimer's disease were evident.
Q: Do these plaques appear in the brain of older people who
have not suffered from any form of dementia? A: Some neurological diseases produce neurofibrillary tangles.
Parkinson's disease victims have plaques and tangles, according
to autopsies, but they do not affect the brain to the extent that
Alzheimer's disease does. The reason could be attributed to the
locale of the tangles and how they affect brain function.
Q: What are the known causes of Alzheimer's disease? A: No one seems to know for certain. …