Education

David Cassidy's Struggle Spotlights Impact of Dementia

By going public with his diagnosis of dementia, former teen musical idol David Cassidy has put a new spotlight on memory-diminishing brain disorders, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and well known.

In an interview with People magazine out this week, the former “Partridge Family” actor, who is 66, said he watched as his grandfather struggled with dementia, and later his mother as well. Researchers believe that genetics play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease, by far the most common type of dementia.

Cassidy has decided to stop touring as a musician. “I want to focus on what I am, who I am and how I’ve been without any distractions,” he told People. “I want to love. I want to enjoy life.”

Dementia is not a specific disease, but considered a syndrome or “umbrella” category of conditions. Dementia is also a term widely used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, or other thinking or cognitive skills. This decline can be severe enough to affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

Early Signs of Dementia

Before diagnosing dementia, doctors often consult with family members of the patient to discern characteristic changes in thinking and day-to-day function. Physicians can determine that a person has dementia with a high level of certainty.

“Oftentimes, a family member or friend will notice that the patient is somewhat forgetful,” said Brad Herskowitz, M.D., a neurologist with Baptist Health Neuroscience Center.  “Some of the earlier signs of dementia may include forgetfulness, repeating questions and forgetting that you’ve even asked the question, forgetting names and faces of people. Basically, forgetting recently learned information. Some patients will get lost in familiar places.”

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. No single test can determine if someone has dementia. Early Alzheimer’s disease is called mild cognitive impairment, says Dr. Herskowitz. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia after conducting a thorough medical history, a physical examination and laboratory tests.

The prevalence of dementia has been estimated to be about 6 percent to 10 percent of individuals aged 65 years or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the prevalence increases with age, rising from 1 percent to 2 percent among those aged 65 to 74 — to 30 percent or more of those aged 85 or older.

‘Increasingly Important’ Public Health Issue

The CDC emphasizes that the majority of older adults do not experience dementia. “Nevertheless, with older adults projected to represent a greater proportion of the U.S. population, the cost of caring for people with dementia will become an increasingly important public health consideration,” the CDC states. In 2013, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this number is projected to almost triple to 14 million, the CDC says.

“People are living longer and the elderly population is growing in size,” says Dr. Herskowitz. “As one gets older the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases. Therefore, we are seeing more cases of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

Symptoms of Dementia

However, it is more challenging to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different types of the syndrome can be similar or overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose “dementia” and not specify a type. If this occurs, it is likely necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, symptoms of dementia can vary greatly. At least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

“Unfortunately, even though we know a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, there is still no effective treatment or cure,” says Dr. Herskowitz. “It is important to try to get involved in Alzheimer’s research clinical trials. This is the only way that we will find a better treatment or cure for the disease.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.