What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term that describes a set of cognitive symptoms, which may include memory loss, trouble with problem solving, inability to focus or pay attention, difficulty with judgment and reasoning, problems with visual perception, difficulty regulating mood, and difficulty with language. Dementia itself is not an actual disease, and is therefore a sign of an underlying condition or interference. Depending on the cause, dementia symptoms may be reversible in some cases. Reversible causes of dementia symptoms include side effects of certain medications, interactions of several medications (polypharmacy), nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, infections impacting the brain, normal pressure hydrocephalus (fluid build up in the brain), neurotoxicity from environmental toxins, depression (called pseudodementia, more common in older adults), and mold illness/biotoxin illness.
It is very important to understand this distinction between dementia (set of cognitive symptoms) and conditions or diseases for which dementia is one of the symptoms. Conditions or diseases that feature symptoms of dementia include stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body disease, and some cases of brain trauma.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most prevalent brain damage-causing conditions in adults. While some genetic markers have been identified, not all patients who develop Alzheimer’s have these genetic markers. Studies of autopsy results have revealed changes in the brain common to Alzheimer’s patients, however, much remains unknown about the contributing causes of Alzheimer’s. In the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, two forms of proteins malfunction and clump to form plaques that impact function of certain brain cells called neurons. Proteins called beta-amyloids form plaques between neurons, preventing them from communicating with each other. Separately, protein fibers called TAU found inside the neurons form clumps called tangles. These TAU tangles prevent neurons from performing normal cell repair processes, causing the neurons to malfunction. Both of these proteins contribute to brain cell death. As the disease progresses, brain cell death becomes widespread, causing atrophy (wasting) throughout the brain until the patient eventually dies.
How are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease treated?
Before treatment can begin, it is critical to determine the actual cause of the dementia symptoms. Because there are many potential causes of dementia symptoms that are partially or totally reversible, those must be checked. Even in cases where more progressive underlying conditions are likely, such as Alzheimer’s, investigating all potential contributing factors is key. Without knowing the cause(s) contributing to a patient’s symptoms, treatment becomes focused on relieving symptoms instead of correcting the actual conditions causing those symptoms. Dr. Thomas approaches treatment by first identifying the contributing factors causing the patient’s symptoms and illness. Using evidence gathered from the patient’s medical history, testing, and clinical exam, Dr. Thomas works with the patient to create a personalized treatment plan to address their unique contributing factors and condition. Whether symptoms are a result of mold illness, neurotoxicity, or a progressive condition like Alzheimer’s, fixing the underlying contributing factors has helped restore the health and function of many patients, including slowing or halting progression of disease.