Header image alt text

Living Through Windows…

Alzheimer's Disease

Glossary

Advance directives
Written documents, completed and signed when a person is legally competent, that explain a person’s medical wishes in advance, allowing someone else to make treatment decisions on his or her behalf later in the disease process.

Aggression
Hitting, pushing or threatening behavior that commonly occurs when a caregiver attempts to help an individual with Alzheimer’s with daily activities, such as dressing. It is important to control such behavior because aggressive people can cause injury to themselves and others.

Agitation
Vocal or motor behavior (screaming, shouting, complaining, moaning, cursing, pacing, fidgeting, wandering, etc.) that is disruptive, unsafe or interferes with the delivery of care in a particular environment. An abnormal behavior is considered agitation only if it poses risk or discomfort to the individual with Alzheimer’s or his or her caregiver. Agitation can be a nonspecific symptom of one or more physical or psychological problems (e.g., headache, depression).

Alzheimer’s disease
A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, leading to loss of mental functions such as memory and learning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Amyloid plaque
Abnormal cluster of dead and dying nerve cells, other brain cells and amyloid protein fragments. Amyloid plaques are one of the characteristic structural abnormalities found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s. Upon autopsy, the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles is used to positively diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Anxiety
A feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness or dread accompanied by restlessness or tension.

Apathy
Lack of interest, concern or emotion.

Aphasia
Difficulty understanding the speech of others and/or expressing oneself verbally.

Assessment
An evaluation, usually performed by a physician, of a person’s mental, emotional and social capabilities.

Assisted living facility
A residential care setting that combines housing, support services and health care for people typically in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Behavioral symptoms
In Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms that relate to action or emotion, such as wandering, depression, anxiety, hostility and sleep disturbances.

Caregiver
The primary person in charge of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease, usually a family member or a designated health care professional.

Care planning
A written action plan containing strategies for delivering care that address an individual’s specific needs or problems.

Central nervous system (CNS)
One of the two major divisions of the nervous system. Composed of the brain and spinal cord, the CNS is the control network for the entire body.

Coexisting illness
A medical condition that exists simultaneously with another, such as arthritis and dementia.

Cognitive abilities
Mental abilities such as judgment, memory, learning, comprehension and reasoning. Cognitive symptoms In Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms that relate to loss of thought processes, such as learning, comprehension, memory, reasoning and judgment.

Continuum of care
Care services available to assist individuals throughout the course of the disease.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
A rare, ultimately fatal disorder of infectious or genetic origin that typically causes memory failure and behavioral changes. A recently identified form called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is the human disorder thought to be caused by eating meat from cattle affected by “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). VCJD tends to appear in much younger individuals than those affected by sporadic or inherited Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

Cueing
The process of providing cues, prompts, hints and other meaningful information, direction or instruction to aid a person who is experiencing memory difficulties.

Deficits
Physical and/or cognitive skills or abilities that a person has lost, has difficulty with or can no longer perform due to his or her dementia.

Dementia
The loss of intellectual functions (such as thinking, remembering and reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself but rather a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or conditions. Symptoms may also include changes in personality, mood and behavior. Dementia is irreversible when caused by disease or injury but may be reversible when caused by drugs, alcohol, hormone or vitamin imbalances or depression.

Disorientation
A cognitive disability in which the senses of time, direction and recognition become difficult to distinguish.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease
An unusual form of Alzheimer’s in which individuals are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before the age of 65. Less than 10 percent of all Alzheimer’s patients have early-onset. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is associated with mutations in genes located on chromosomes 1, 14 and 21.

Early stage
The beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease when an individual experiences very mild to moderate cognitive impairments.

Familial Alzheimer’s disease
A form of Alzheimer’s disease that runs in families.

Gait
A person’s manner of walking. People in the later stages of Alzheimer’s often have “reduced gait,” meaning their ability to lift their feet as they walk has diminished.

Genetic susceptibility
The state of being more likely than the average person to develop a disease as a result of genetics.

Hallucination
A sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste or feel something that isn’t there.

Huntington’s disease
An inherited, degenerative brain disease affecting the mind and body, characterized by intellectual decline and involuntary movement of limbs.

Incontinence
Loss of bladder and/or bowel control.

Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
The most common form of Alzheimer’s disease, usually occurring after age 65. Late-onset Alzheimer’s strikes almost half of all people over the age of 85 and may or may not be hereditary.

Late stage
Designation given when dementia symptoms have progressed to the extent that a person has little capacity for self-care.

Layering
Behavior that involves inappropriately changing or layering clothing on top of one another.

Memory
The ability to process information that requires attention, storage and retrieval.

Multi-infarct dementia (MID)
A form of dementia, also known as vascular dementia, caused by a number of strokes in the brain. These strokes can affect some intellectual abilities, impair motor and walking skills and cause an individual to experience hallucinations, delusions or depression. The onset of MID is usually abrupt and often progresses in a stepwise fashion. Individuals with MID are likely to have risk factors for strokes, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. MID cannot be treated; once the nerve cells die, they cannot be replaced. However, risk factors can be treated, which may help prevent further damage.

Neurodegenerative disease
A type of neurological disorder marked by the loss of nerve cells. See Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease.

Neurofibrillary tangle
Accumulation of twisted protein fragments inside nerve cells. Neurofibrillary tangles are one of the characteristic structural abnormalities found in the brains of Alzheimer patients. Upon autopsy, the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles is used to positively diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Neurological disorder
Disturbance in structure or function of the nervous system resulting from developmental abnormality, disease, injury or toxin.

Onset
Defines time of life when Alzheimer’s disease begins (e.g., early-onset, late-onset).

Pacing
Aimless wandering, often triggered by an internal stimulus (e.g., pain, hunger or boredom) or some distraction in the environment (e.g., noise, smell, temperature).

Paranoia
Suspicion of others that is not based on fact.

Parkinson’s disease
A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by the death of nerve cells in a specific area of the brain; the cause of nerve cell death is unknown. Parkinson’s patients lack the neurotransmitter dopamine and have such symptoms as tremors, speech impediments, movement difficulties and often dementia later in the course of the disease.

Perseveration
Persistent repetition of an activity, word, phrase or movement, such as tapping, wiping and picking.

Pick’s disease
Type of dementia in which degeneration of nerve cells causes dramatic alterations in personality and social behavior but typically does not affect memory until later in the disease.

Prevalence
The total number of individuals who have a disease at a given point in time. For example, the estimate that 4.5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease is a prevalence statistic. Incidence is the number of new cases expected to occur over the course of a year or some other limited period.

Psychosis
A general term for a state of mind in which thinking becomes irrational and/or disturbed. It refers primarily to delusions, hallucinations and other severe thought disturbances.

Reassurance
Encouragement intended to relieve tension, fear and confusion that can result from dementing illnesses.

Reinforcement
Employment of praise, repetition and stimulation of the senses to preserve a person’s memory, capabilities and level of self-assurance.

Reminiscence
Life review activity aimed at surfacing and reviewing positive memories and experiences.

Repetitive behaviors
Repeated questions, stories and outbursts or specific activities done over and over again, common in people with dementia.

Respite
A short break or time away.

Respite care
Services that provide people with temporary relief from tasks associated with caregiving (e.g., in-home assistance, short nursing home stays, adult day care).

Restraints
Devices used to ensure safety by restricting and controlling a person’s movement. Many facilities are “restraint-free” or use alternative methods to help modify behavior.

Risk factors
Factors that have been shown to increase one’s odds of developing a disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, the only established risk factors are age, family history and genetics.

Rummaging
Searching through one’s own or someone else’s belongings in a way that may seem haphazard and undirected to an observer.

Safe return
The Alzheimer’s Association’s nationwide identification, support and registration program that assists in the safe return of individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia who wander and become lost.

Senility
Term meaning “old,” once used to describe elderly diagnosed with dementia. Today, dementia is known to be caused by various diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s) and is not a normal part of aging.

Shadowing
Following, mimicking and interrupting behaviors that people with dementia may experience.

Sundowning
Unsettled behavior evident in the late afternoon or early evening.

Suspiciousness
A mistrust common in Alzheimer’s patients as their memory becomes progressively worse. A common example is when patients believe their glasses or other belongings have been stolen because they forgot where they left them.

Trigger
An environmental or personal stimulus that sets off particular and sometimes challenging behavior.

Wandering
Common behavior that causes people with dementia to stray and become lost in familiar surroundings.

Source: The Alzheimer’s Association