DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease? Are they the same? -- M.J.
ANSWER: "Dementia" is an encompassing word that includes many different conditions. Those conditions have some similar features that indicate an impairment or loss of important mental functions. The inability to retain new information, getting lost in familiar surroundings, difficulty choosing the proper words to express oneself, trouble doing simple arithmetic like adding and subtracting, the failure to recognize close relatives and friends, and showing poor judgment like dressing for winter in the middle of summer are signs of dementia.
Alzheimer's disease, Pick's disease, vascular dementia (dementia due to many small strokes), dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia are but a few of the dementia illnesses. Each of these illnesses has special features that set it apart from the other dementing conditions.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common kind of dementia. People often use "dementia" when they mean "Alzheimer's disease." It's best to give the exact name for the illness that is causing mental deterioration.
The booklet on Alzheimer's disease provides the signs and symptoms of this illness. Readers who would like a copy can obtain one by writing: Dr. Donohue -- No. 903W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient's printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What has happened to the appendix? I never hear about appendicitis anymore. Has the operation gone out of fashion? Or is there some other way to deal with it? -- R.P.
ANSWER: The appendix is still where it always has been, dangling down from the first part of the colon on the lower right side. Long thought not to have any purpose, it does appear to add to immune defenses and seems to produce products useful for the development of the fetus. We do well without it, though.
Appendicitis has not gone out of fashion. It happens with the same regularity it always has. The age group most likely to suffer from it is the group between 10 and 19. Around 250,000 appendectomies are done yearly in the United States.
Newer developments in the diagnosis of appendicitis include CT scans and ultrasound. Many surgeons now use a laparoscope to remove it. It's a viewing instrument passed into the abdomen through a small incision. Instruments also are inserted through similar small incisions.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I don't think my problem will impress you, but here I go.
I refuse to wear a bathing suit in the summer because of all the spider veins on my legs, especially in the area of the ankles. How are they gotten rid of? I heard that tea bags work. Do they? -- E.L.
ANSWER: I'm not familiar with tea bags for spider veins.
Other treatments do work well. Lasers can obliterate them. So can sclerotherapy. A doctor injects these tiny veins with a solution that causes them to wither and dry up.
I'm sure you won't have trouble finding a doctor who does these procedures. If you do have trouble, ask your family doctor for a referral.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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