Dementia, Alzheimer's, Autism (and more), and Communication Disorders
LaPointe, Murdoch, and Stierwalt (2010) offer a comprehensive discussion on the impact of dementia with respect to multiple communication disorders. They note that "dementia is a non-specific disorder syndrome that may ravage thinking and other areas of cognition." In addition to the often-used definition of cognition as "knowing," they report cognition includes a "salad bar" of executive functions and includes learning, remembering, organizing, planning, figuring things out, understanding and using language—and more. Multiple classification schemes for dementia are in use.
The authors list the Alzheimer's Association's 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) (extrapolated here):
- Recent memory loss affecting day-to-day functions,
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks,
- Problems with language,
- Time and place disorientation,
- Poor-or-decreased judgment,
- Difficulty with abstract thinking,
- Misplacing things,
- Changes in mood/behavior,
- Personality changes,
- Loss of initiative.
Alzheimer's Disease causes the majority of all dementias. LaPointe, Murdoch, and Stierwalt note that of those older than 65, 10 percent have AD, whereas for those older than age 85, nearly 50 percent have AD; and, a new AD diagnosis occurs every 71 seconds in the United States. The two most common physical changes in the brain, secondary to AD, are amyloid plaques (unusual clusters of proteins) and neurofibrillary tangles (bundles of twisted filaments within nerves, also composed of proteins).
At the other end of the age spectrum, LaPointe, Murdoch, and Stierwalt present an excellent discussion on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). They report autism has likely always existed, yet there was no consistent label until the middle of the 20th century. Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders currently impact 3.4 children per thousand. A milder form of the disorder is known as Asperger's Syndrome. The authors argue that if any warning signs of ASDs are present, a professional evaluation should occur as quickly as possible. Often, parents are the first to notice "something different" such as being unresponsive or focusing on one item for an extended period of time. Other signs may include the cessation of babbling, or the child becomes withdrawn, self abusive, or indifferent. "Pervasive Development Disorders" (PDDs) is the term used when a child has some of these behaviors, but does not meet the specific diagnostic criteria of either.
Post-mortem and MRI studies have demonstrated that Autism does have an impact on many major brain centers, including cerebellum, cerebral cortex, limbic system, corpus callosum, basal ganglia, and more. Presently, autism appears to have a genetic origin.
For More Information, References, and Recommendations
LaPointe LL, Murdoch BE, Stierwalt JAG. (2010) Brain-Based Communication Disorders. ISBN 978-1-59756-194-5. Plural Publishing.