Glossary of terms used for dementia
Glossary of terms used
acetylcholine - a neurotransmitter that is important for the formation of memories. Studies have shown that levels of acetylcholine are reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease - the most common cause of dementia in people aged 65 and older. Nearly all brain functions, including memory, movement, language, judgment, behavior, and abstract thinking, are eventually affected.
plaques - unusual clumps of material found in the tissue between nerve cells. Amyloid plaques, which consist of a protein called beta amyloid along with degenerating bits of neurons and other cells, are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
amyloid precursor protein - a normal brain protein that is a precursor for beta amyloid, the abnormal substance found in the characteristic amyloid plaques of Alzheimer's disease patients.
apolipoprotein E - a gene that has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. People with a variant form of the gene, called apoE epsilon 4, have about ten times the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
ataxia - a loss of muscle control.
atherosclerosis - a blood vessel disease characterized by the buildup of plaque, or deposits of fatty substances and other matter in the inner lining of an artery.
- a protein found in the characteristic clumps of tissue (called plaques) that appear in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Binswanger's disease - a rare form of dementia characterized by damage to small blood vessels in the white matter of the brain. This damage leads to brain lesions, loss of memory, disordered cognition, and mood changes.
CADASIL - a rare hereditary disorder which is linked to a type of vascular dementia. It stands for cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarct and leukoencephalopathy.
- drugs that slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
cognitive training - a type of training in which patients practice tasks designed to improve mental performance. Examples include memory aids, such as mnemonics, and computerized recall devices.
computed tomographic (CT) scans - a type of brain scan that uses X-rays to detect brain structures.
cortical atrophy - degeneration of the brain's cortex (outer layer). Cortical atrophy is common in many forms of dementia and may be visible on a brain scan.
cortical dementia - a type of dementia in which the damage primarily occurs in the brain's cortex, or outer layer.
- a progressive disorder characterized by nerve cell loss and atrophy in multiple areas of the brain.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - a rare, degenerative, fatal brain disorder believed to be linked to an abnormal form of a protein called a prion.
dementia -a term for a collection of symptoms that significantly impair thinking and normal activities and relationships.
dementia pugilistica - a form of dementia caused by head trauma such as that experienced by boxers. It is also called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or Boxer's syndrome.
electroencephalogram (EEG) - a medical procedure that records patterns of electrical activity in the brain.
fatal familial insomnia - an inherited disease that affects a brain region called the thalamus, which is partially responsible for controlling sleep. The disease causes dementia and a progressive insomnia that eventually leads to a complete lack of sleep.
frontotemporal dementias - a group of dementias characterized by degeneration of nerve cells, especially those in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
FTDP-17 - one of the frontotemporal dementias, linked to a mutation in the tau gene. It is much like other types of the frontotemporal dementias but often includes psychiatric symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
- a rare, fatal hereditary disease that causes ataxia and progressive dementia.
- a dementia that results from infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. It can cause widespread destruction of the brain's white matter.
Huntington's disease - a degenerative hereditary disorder caused by a faulty gene for a protein called huntington. The disease causes degeneration in many regions of the brain and spinal cord and patients eventually develop severe dementia.
Lewy body dementia - one of the most common types of progressive dementia, characterized by the presence of abnormal structures called Lewy bodies in the brain. In many ways the symptoms of this disease overlap with those of Alzheimer's disease.
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic imaging technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of body structures.
mild cognitive impairment - a condition associated with impairments in understanding and memory not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia, but more pronounced than those associated with normal aging.
Mini-Mental State Examination - a test used to assess cognitive skills in people with suspected dementia. The test examines orientation, memory, and attention, as well as the ability to name objects, follow verbal and written commands, write a sentence spontaneously, and copy a complex shape.
multi-infarct dementia - a type of vascular dementia caused by numerous small strokes in the brain.
myelin - a fatty substance that coats and insulates nerve cells.
neurofibrillary tangles - bundles of twisted filaments found within neurons, and a characteristic feature found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These tangles are largely made up of a protein called tau.
neurotransmitter - a type of chemical, such as acetylcholine, that transmits signals from one neuron to another. People with Alzheimer's disease have reduced supplies of acetylcholine.
organic brain syndrome - a term that refers to physical disorders (not psychiatric in origin) that impair mental functions.
Parkinson's dementia - a secondary dementia that sometimes occurs in people with advanced Parkinson's disease, which is primarily a movement disorder. Many Parkinson's patients have the characteristic amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles found in Alzheimer's disease, but it is not yet clear if the diseases are linked.
Pick's disease - a type of frontotemporal dementia where certain nerve cells become abnormal and swollen before they die. The brains of people with Pick's disease have abnormal structures, called Pick bodies, inside the neurons. The symptoms are very similar to those of Alzheimer's diease.
plaques - unusual clumps of material found between the tissues of the brain in Alzheimer's disease. See also amyloid plaques.
post-traumatic dementia - a dementia brought on by a single traumatic brain injury. It is much like dementia pugilistica, but usually also includes long-term memory problems.
presenilin 1 and 2
- proteins produced by genes that influence susceptibility to early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
primary dementia - a dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, that is not the result of another disease.
primary progressive aphasia
- a type of frontotemporal dementia resulting in deficits in language functions. Many, but not all, people with this type of aphasia eventually develop symptoms of dementia.
- a dementia that gets worse over time, gradually interfering with more and more cognitive abilities.
secondary dementia - a dementia that occurs as a consequence of another disease or an injury.
- an outdated term that reflects the formerly widespread belief that dementia was a normal part of aging. The word senile is derived from a Latin term that means, roughly, "old age. "
subcortical dementia - dementia that affects parts of the brain below the outer brain layer, or cortex.
substance-induced persisting dementia - dementia caused by abuse of substances such as alcohol and recreational drugs that persists even after the substance abuse has ended.
- a protein that helps the functioning of microtubules, which are part of the cell's structural support and help to deliver substances throughout the cell. In Alzheimer's disease, tau is changed in a way that causes it to twist into pairs of helical filaments that collect into tangles.
transmissible spongiform encephalopathies - part of a family of human and animal diseases in which brains become filled with holes resembling sponges when examined under a microscope. CJD is the most common of the known transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
vascular dementia - a type of dementia caused by brain damage from cerebrovascular or cardiovascular problems - usually strokes. It accounts for up to 20 percent of all dementias.
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