Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses-4: Alzheimer’s and dementia

Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses-4: Alzheimer’s and dementia

Old age is inevitable and so are many conditions associated with it. People become concerned about growing old, primarily because older age often brings dependency on others and a struggle with numerous health issues. A healthy lifestyle can prevent illness, exercise and a good diet prevents many diseases. While people can use cosmetics or even cosmetic surgery in some cases to appear younger, they cannot govern the inner aging of tissues, cells, muscles and most importantly the brain. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Memory decline also occurs with ageing and brain activation becomes more bilateral for memory tasks.”

Progressive memory loss with age occurs in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. (The term dementia, according to the DSM-5 has been replaced with the term either major or mild neurocognitive disorder). Alzheimer’s disease is a DSM-V diagnosis given to individuals who are experiencing cognitive deficits directly related to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. The memory loss of aging people is commonly considered as an imbalance in their mental status that has caused them to forget things. The series “Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses,” talks about commonly found conditions such as autism, insomnia etc. that are considered to be mental illnesses even though they are not.

Understanding Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) defines Alzheimer’s disease as “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.” The condition, while it affects memory, also causes problems with thinking and behavioral ability.

Despite age being the prime cause of the illnesses, Alzheimer’s is considered as a mental illness because in many the onset of the condition occurs at a much younger age. The condition, however, worsens with age. Also, the condition falls well within the bracket of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), which is the main tool used to describe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.

Dementia, or major neurocognitive disorder, refers to a decline rather than a deficit in function. It is a condition suggesting a decline in mental ability that causes disruption in everyday life. It covers a wide range of symptoms that indicate declining memory or thinking ability. Alzheimer’s is commonly considered as a form of dementia.

While memory loss is one of the major symptoms of dementia, disruption in communication and language, lack of ability to focus and pay attention, difficulty in reasoning and judgment and difficulties with visual perception are other common symptoms of dementia.

Mental illnesses or not?

Scientists believe that categorizing Alzheimer’s as a mental illness has a great impact on its cure and treatment. Mental illnesses have a stigma attached to them. People with mental disorders have usually been ill-treated, disrespected, neglected and ignored by the society.

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect brain function. It is, therefore, important to understand them as conditions that impact memory and communication skills, in order to ensure a correct treatment approach.

Road to recovery

If you or a loved one is suffering from any mental health problem, the California Mental Health Helpline can assist you in finding the best mental health facilities in California. You may call  our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to seek information about mental health treatment centers in California.

If you want to know more about other, “Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illnesses,” you can do so at:

Part-1: Autism

Part- 2: Insomnia

Part-3: Down Syndrome