Dementia: Making the Right Diagnosis

Those of you who are regular readers of this journal, and my column, know that I am especially interested in the cognitive changes that occur with aging, particularly the various neurodegenerative disorders. While cardiovascular disorders and cancer are the top two killers in old age, neither robs its victims so completely of their identity. To see loved ones die with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementing disorder is like seeing them die twice; once when their personality and memory are so impaired that they are but a shadow of their former selves, and a second time when their heart stops beating. Sometimes only after the physical death has occurred can the relatives and friends allow themselves to remember their loved ones as they were, rather than what they became.

We have just entered the era when medical care for patients with dementia can make a difference. This means that accurate diagnosis of dementia, including the type of dementia, will become ever more important in clinical practice. Gone are the days when we could simply call the patient “senile.” Unfortunately, the diagnosis is not always easy to make, and Dr. Lonn Myronuk addresses this problem in his article “Pitfalls in the Diagnosis of Dementia.” As well, Dr. Ging-Yuek Robin Hsiung reviews the “Current Pharmacological Management of Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia.” Dr. Ron Keren, the chair of the 3rd Canadian Colloquium on Dementia (CCD), keeps us up to date with the newest information on dementia by reviewing the highlights from the Colloquium, which was held in October 2005 in Ottawa. This conference, held every other year, has become the leading conference on dementia for Canadian clinicians and clinician researchers, and has a global impact. The 4th CCD, scheduled for the fall of 2007, will be held in Vancouver. The innovative format of the meeting ensures that everybody can benefit, whether specialist, researcher, or primary care physician.

Many of our regular columns this month also touch on the topic of dementia. Dr. John Wherrett’s Biology of Aging column, “Morphological and Cellular Aspects of the Aging Brain,” provides important baseline information for those of us who try to understand the clinical pathological changes of the various dementias. Keeping with the theme, our Caregiving column this month is on “Reporting on Quality of Long-Term Care Homes in Ontario” by Jennifer Gold, Tamara Shulman, and Dr. Paula Rochon. The topic of our Dementia column this month is “Nonpharmaceutical Management of Hypokinetic Dysarthria in Parkinson’s Disease” by Drs A. M. Johnson and S.G. Adams. Even our book review this month touches on dementia. Hazel Sebastian, a renowned geriatric social worker, reviews the book “Parenting Your Parents, 2nd Edition” by Bart Mindszenthy and Dr. Michael Gordon.

This month’s Cardiovascular Disease column is on that most common of arrhythmias in the elderly: atrial fibrillation. Finally, Drs. Rajneesh Calton, Vijay Chauhan, and Kumaraswamy Nanthakumar review a critical controversy in the management of atrial fibrillation in their discussion of “Rate vs. Rhythm Control and Anticoagulation.”

Enjoy this issue,
Barry Goldlist