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Behavioral Changes May Be The First Sign of Dementia

September 21, 2016
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Memory loss may not be the first sign of dementia anymore, according to a new study. Researchers believe that small, yet significant changes in an individual’s personality and behavior may indicate dementia before any signs of memory loss. The University of Calgary presented these findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto. They call the syndrome “mild behavioral impairment” or MBI. “Historically, those symptoms have been written off as a psychiatric issue, or just as a part of aging,” said Dr. Zahinoor Ismail, lead researcher in the University of Calgary study, “When it comes to early detection, memory symptoms don’t have the corner on the market anymore.” Ismail suggests that specific changes in behavior and personality signal the beginning of brain degeneration. Mike Belleville, a technology specialist in Douglas, Massachusetts experienced this firsthand. Initially, when Belleville began to lose his control around co-workers and other drivers, he blamed stress. His wife, Cheryl, knew it was something more. After a heated argument between the two, she claims her husband’s behavior was abnormal. When Belleville could not remember the fight the next morning, the 55-year-old scheduled an appointment with his doctor. Physicians diagnosed Belleville with early-onset dementia. He takes medication and no longer gets easily angry, but his wife wants to warn others of the initial signs. “If you see changes, don’t take it lightly and assume it’s stress,” Cheryl Belleville said. Dr. Ron Peterson, the chief of Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s research department, agrees. “It’s important for us to recognize that not everything’s forgetfulness,” Peterson said. Symptoms of MBI include:
  • Apathy
  • Anxiety about one’s routine
  • Getting abnormally angry
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of impulse control
Another clue may have to do with a person’s seeing and smelling ability. At Columbia University, researchers discovered that people in the early stages of dementia have a lower chance of correctly identifying common smells like lemon or bubble gum. Dr. David Agus, a medical contributor to CBS News, can understand why. “The eyes and the nose are a window to the brain,” Agus said. He further explained that it’s not the nose itself that loses a sense of smell. Rather, it is your brain losing its ability to identify specific scents. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and affects over 5 million US citizens. The disease slowly deteriorates the brain’s ability to retain memories, and can cloud thinking and reason. As the baby boom population ages, higher numbers of Alzheimer’s are being reported. While MBI is still being researched, a telltale, first sign of dementia can be found in a condition called “mild cognitive impairment” or MCI. MCI shows the first signs of memory problems, and is typically the trigger for individuals to seek a physician. As for dementia cures, Dr. Thomas Wisniewski of the Center for Cognitive Neurology at NYU says it varies case by case. "It's clear that Alzheimer's is a syndrome, so it has a number of different causes and the optimum treatment may be dependent on what the underlying cause of the particular form of Alzheimer's disease," he said.
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