Memory Problems and Dementia

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify brain patterns associated with dementia and other causes of memory problems.

What are Memory Problems and Dementia?

Occasionally losing your keys or forgetting someone’s name does not necessarily mean you are getting dementia. However, progressive memory problems and a decline in cognitive skills may be warning signs of a more serious problem, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most well-known and prevalent form of dementia. Dementia is an overall term that refers to a category of degenerative brain diseases that affect important brain functions and can cause memory loss, cognitive impairment, and personality and behavior changes. (See more on the various types of dementia and their symptoms below.)

Who Has Memory Issues?

Worldwide, a new person is diagnosed with dementia every 7 seconds. More than 5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to nearly triple by 2050. Tens of millions more will experience other forms of dementia, and 75% of older adults will suffer from memory problems. Forgetfulness and memory loss are not only seen in the elderly. Children, young adults, and those in mid-life may also experience memory issues.

What Causes Memory Loss?

A number of factors may contribute to memory problems, including:

  • Family history of Alzheimer’s disease/dementia
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Obesity & Poor Diet
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Lyme disease
  • Some medications
  • Heart disease
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Diabetes or prediabetes
  • Hypertension or prehypertension
  • Periodontal disease
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Cancer/chemotherapy
  • Sleep apnea

Untreated memory problems and dementia can cause problems in your life such as:

  • Work problems
  • Relationship troubles
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to live independently
  • Changes in behavior
  • Personality changes

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treatment of Memory Problems?

At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation that also includes lab testing and assessing the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may contribute to memory problems. Based on all of this information, we can identify the root causes of memory problems and develop a personalized treatment plan to reverse memory loss. Our Memory Rescue program has already helped thousands of patients improve their memory and cognitive abilities.

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Memory-Challenged Brains Work Differently

Science now knows that dementia processes start in the brain decades before symptoms appear. One of the great contributions of brain SPECT imaging is that it can show the abnormal patterns of dementia early in the course of the disease, and in some cases, even before symptoms develop. Detection with SPECT gives people the opportunity to get treatment in the early stages when it will be most effective. SPECT can also reveal brain patterns associated with other conditions that can contribute to memory problems.

Healthy Brain Scan

Alzheimer’s Disease Scan

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. The healthy surface brain SPECT scan on the left, looking down from the top, shows full, even symmetrical activity. The Alzheimer’s disease brain scan on the right reveals dramatically low overall activity and shows that the back half of the brain is dying.

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Common Types of Dementia and Related Symptoms

Dementia is not a single or simple disease. It is an umbrella term for neurodegenerative disorders and conditions that impair memory, cognitive function, and thinking skills. They can also affect a person’s emotions, behavior, and relationships. The following sections provide greater detail on the various types of dementia and the common symptoms associated with them.

Type 1: Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Approximately 5.2 million people in the U.S have already been diagnosed, and that number is expected to nearly triple by the year 2050! Its signature brain pattern is low activity (blood flow) in the posterior cingulate gyrus, parietal lobes and temporal lobes. In later stages of Alzheimer’s, the low activity often extends into other areas of the brain, including the frontal lobes.
Research has shown that SPECT imaging can identify the abnormally low blood flow pattern of Alzheimer’s disease up to 9 years before the onset of noticeable symptoms. This capacity of SPECT imaging is particularly valuable for people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

Common Symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with numbers
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems constructing things
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Getting lost
  • Confusion with time, date or location
  • Difficulty interpreting what is seen
  • Struggling with vocabulary or verbal expression
  • Judgment problems
  • Changes in mood or personality

Type 2: Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementia

Frontal-temporal lobe dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the function of the frontal and temporal lobes, as its name suggests. This disease causes decreased blood flow and low activity in these important areas of the brain that are in charge of thinking, behaving and memory.

It’s estimated that 10-15% of people with dementia have this type. People with frontal-temporal lobe dementia often develop it in their 50s and 60s, although earlier onset is possible. Sometimes this type of dementia is incorrectly diagnosed as late onset bipolar disorder because some of the symptoms look similar. It’s so important to know what is really going on by looking at the brain. The SPECT images for these two disorders are vastly different.

Common Symptoms in Frontal-Temporal Lobe Dementia:

  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Loss of restraint/increased impulsivity
  • Problems with language or speech
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Apathy
  • Personality changes
  • Language problems

Type 3: Alcohol Related Dementia

Alcohol Related Dementia is caused by excessive use or abuse of alcohol. Alcohol is toxic to the brain, thus heavy long-term use impairs brain function over time, making the brain vulnerable to a degenerative process. With SPECT imaging, we will typically see a widespread pattern of low blood flow in the brain. It is also thought that vitamin deficiencies (especially a lack of thiamine), which are commonly found in alcoholics, play an important role in alcohol related dementia.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Related Dementia:

  • Balance problems
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Clouded thinking
  • Disorganization
  • Social problems
  • Loss of motivation or initiative
  • Hallucinations
  • Confabulation (making things up)
  • Language problems
  • Moodiness
  • Personality changes

Type 4: Vascular Dementia

It is estimated that 10% of dementia patients are suffering from vascular dementia. This type of dementia occurs as a result of diseases and conditions that inflame or damage blood vessels and consequently restrict blood flow in the brain. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Arthrosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cerebral vascular (blood vessel) disease and stroke
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Untreated obstructive sleep apnea
  • Brain infections
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Untreated depression
  • Cigarette smoking

With stroke, a person may develop dementia symptoms right afterward, depending on the area that has been damaged; however, symptoms can also develop over time as a result of the artery disease affecting the brain. A person who has “mini strokes”—also known as TIAs that cause multiple small blockages in the brain—may also be vulnerable to vascular dementia.

Symptoms of vascular dementia can vary depending on which areas of the brain are most affected by the disease and may include several of the following:

  • Thinking problems
  • Confusion
  • Poor reasoning and planning skills
  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Memory problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty with word finding
  • Difficulty in social situations
  • Uncontrollable laughing or crying
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Difficulty walking
  • Urinary urgency or incontinence

SPECT imaging will reveal areas of low blood flow, although the specific pattern for each person will vary based on the brain areas affected by the vascular dementia.

Type 5: Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) is caused by an abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain, causing the ventricles to enlarge and press on areas of the brain involved with walking, bladder control and cognitive processes. NPH causes symptoms that can mimic those seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, so people suffering with NPH are often misdiagnosed. A SPECT scan can be extremely helpful in differentiating NPH from actual dementia so that a person can get the urgent medical attention and correct treatment needed for this potentially debilitating condition. If identified and treated early (before brain damage has occurred), the dementia symptoms of NPH often can be reversed.

Common Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus:

  • Difficulty with walking
  • Slowed movements
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions and planning
  • Personality changes
  • Behavior problems
  • Apathy

Type 6: Pseudodementia

Pseudodementia is a condition in which a patient has another disorder—such as depression —yet has symptoms that mimic dementia (i.e. memory problems and behavior changes), but does not actually have dementia. The role of SPECT imaging is important for revealing the underlying cause of symptoms, since the treatment for depression (as in this example) is very different than that for dementia.


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


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