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Dementia - Alzheimer's disease

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the deterioration of mental abilities, leading to impaired memory and thinking, impaired judgment and can even alter the patient's personality.
The most common of these is Alzheimer's disease.


In 1906, the German neuropathologist and psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer first described the symptoms. He discovered typical microscopic changes in his patients' brains and gave the disease its name. Other forms of dementia such as Lewy body dementia are due to abnormal protein inclusions in the nerve cells. 


The most common dementia diseases are:
Alzheimer's disease
Vascular dementia   
Frontotemporal dementia, Pick's disease
Semantic form of frontotemporal dementia
Primary progressive aphasia (form of frontotemporal dementia)
Lewy body dementia    
Parkinson's dementia
Korsakoff Syndrome
Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease   
Dementia in Down Syndrome


In Europe alone, at least five million people suffer from dementia. The organization Alzheimer Disease International (ADI),   expects the number of dementia cases to triple by 2050. In Europe alone, 16 million people would be affected by the disease. The Austrian Dementia Report 2014 assumes 182,600 Alzheimer's patients in 2050. 
Presumably, these numbers will continue to rise because the proportion of older people in the total population is increasing. Dementia is already the most common reason for admission to a nursing home.


Our brain consists of many billions of nerve cells, the so-called neurons. The nerve cells are tightly networked by fibers in order to exchange information with each other. For reasons that have not yet been fully clarified, Alzheimer's disease leads to a progressive loss of nerve cells and, as a result, to a significant shrinkage of the brain mass. The transmission points between the nerve cells are also disturbed. However, intact transmission points are necessary for the smooth forwarding and processing of information. The transmitter substance acetylcholine is required for the transmission of information. It is produced in special nerve cells located deep in the brain. Due to the death of nerve cells in this region, too little acetylcholine is produced. This leads to disruptions in information processing and thus to memory loss. The death of nerve cells is also accompanied by the formation of abnormally modified protein fragments, which are deposited in the brain in the form of fibrils. These are the neurofibrillary tangles described by Alois Alzheimer. These protein deposits also ultimately lead to the death of the nerve cells.

An early diagnosis is important, since the performance of Alzheimer's patients can be maintained for longer if treatment is started early.


The first symptoms are a deterioration in short-term memory, the ability to concentrate and think is reduced, speech disorders occur and fatigue increases. Orientation and judgment are also impaired. Symptoms of depression are also common in the initial phase. Later on, hallucinations can also occur. As a result, people with dementia find it difficult to recognize things and people.


Everyday skills such as washing, dressing, preparing food or shopping are only possible to a limited extent and often no longer at all as the process progresses. Parts of the personality are also lost: those affected can become aggressive or uninhibited, depressed or erratic in their mood. For relatives  this is often associated with considerable psychological stress.


Whether and when the individual dementia symptoms appear varies. One indication of the progression of Alzheimer's dementia is the degradation of long-term memory. Memories of past decades fade, and at some point close relatives are no longer recognized. In the final stages, patients are often silent, bedridden and entirely dependent on the help of others.


As soon as warning signals appear, such as forgetfulness, orientation problems, word-finding disorders, a specialist in neurology or psychiatry should be consulted.

In the treatment of degenerative dementia, such as Morbus Alzheimer , the aim is for patients to be able to remain independent in their everyday lives for as long as possible. Drugs and accompanying therapeutic measures can slow down the course of the disease, alleviate the symptoms and thus delay the degradation of brain power.


Music can help in all stages of dementia. In the early stages not only hearing but also making music plays an important role. In the late stages, listening to familiar tunes can be soothing and relieve pain. Music evokes positive memories and feelings.

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