SPECIAL REPORT: Untangling dementia

Nacogdoches, Texas (KETK) - Most people see dementia as one big disease, but it is only an "umbrella term" and there are actually 48 subsets of the disease.

Your typical retirement community usually only deals with the eight most common forms...

"Which are the Alzheimer's group, Lewy bodies, vascular, frontaltemporal, Parkinsons, Wernicke Korsakoff's and Huntington's," said Dr. Tam Cummings, Gerontologist. "And those are the people we're most likely to work with in the community."

We often see people with this ailment and assume their problem is memory, while that is a correct assumption, it's not quite that simple.

As Dr. Cummings explains, memory is more than just remembering names or events.

"Without memory you can't stand up straight, you can't sit up straight," she said. "Memory is not just 'I know how to get to my house', memory means 'I know how to chew and swallow food', memory means 'I know that that pressure means I better find a bathroom'."

When memory is affected it's not only this, but also behavior.

For example:  Frontaltemporal dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are crucial parts that make up who we are.

"It's reasoning, judgement, imagination, impulse control, who you are, personality, speech, so it involves a lot of things," said Dr. Cummings. "And when it's damaged we see some behaviors that can be really challenging."

While there is no cure for the various forms of dementia some say there are ways of stopping it from getting worse.

The Nacogdoches Treatment Center has been working with dementia patients for 20 years and all they do is give them a place to belong to, socialize, play games, listen to music and they say it works wonders.

"Usually they're very depressed or upset about life," said Sandy Fortenberry, Program Director at Nacogdoches Treatment Center. "And when they come here and they're around their peers and they realize that they're okay, they seem to calm down, they sleep better they seem to do better at home."

This is because memory is like a muscle, when it goes unused it becomes weak.

Dr. Cummings says we know now that the vascular system is much more related to brain health than we previously thought.
She says the best defense against dementia is to eat healthy and exercise.

"Your brain needs at least an hour of exercise to push blood through it," she said. "And that we have to take care of ourselves, we can't just retire and stop thinking, we have to continue to use our brains throughout our life."

Lastly, she says when someone is first diagnosed you should ask the right questions, "what stage is it?" "are my children and grandchildren at risk" "is there medication" the same questions you ask if the diagnosis was cancer.

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