Medical Aspects of Disability
October 17, 2006
– Group of symptoms that can be caused by over
60-70 disorders.
– Syndrome which refers to progressive decline
in intellectual functioning severe enough to
interfere with person’s normal daily activities
and social relationships. (National Institute on Aging1995 No. 95-3782)
– Marked by progressive declines in
• memory.
• visual-spatial relationships
• performance of routine tasks
• language and communication skills
• abstract thinking
• ability to learn and carry out mathematical
• Two Types:
– Reversible
– Irreversible
• Individuals must have intensive medical
physical to rule out reversible types of
Delirium vs. Dementia
• Delirium defined--- characterized by a disturbance
of consciousness and a change in cognition that
develop over a short period of time
• About 10-15% of surgical patients experience
delirium, and 15-25% of medicine inpatients will
experience delirium
• 30% Surgical Intensive Care Unit patients develop
delirium, and up to 30% of AIDS patients while
inpatient, will develop delirium
Delirium vs. Dementia
• A major risk factor is advanced age
 Other factors include very young people (children),
organic brain damage including stroke, MVA, etc,
substance use, previous delirium, malnutrition, sensory
deprivation (hearing or visual loss), diabetes, cancer
 Having an episode of delirium is more than just
 3 month mortality following an episode of delirium is
25-30%. 1 year mortality after an episode of delirium
may be as high as 50%.
Delirium vs. Dementia
• Many causes of delirium:
 Some examples… epilepsy, CNS trauma, CNS
infection, CNS neoplasm, endocrine
dysfunction (pituitary, thyroid, adrenal,
parathyroid, pancreas), liver failure, UTI,
cardiac dysrhythmias, hypotension, vitamin
deficiency, sepsis, electrolyte imbalance,
iatrogenic- any medication, substance
Delirium vs. Dementia
• Could be psychiatric disorder, i.e. major
depression or generalized anxiety disorder, in
which case need to initiate treatment for this
disorder, i.e. get a psych consult
• Or is the cause a delirium from other meds or an
infection, in which case should look at labs and
med list.
• Or is cause alcohol withdrawal, in which case
need to treat w/d with benzodiazepines
• If patient is having chronic trouble sleeping, a
good choice to help them is Ambien/zolpidem or
Delirium vs. Dementia
• Watch for alcohol withdrawal as cause of
delirium. If elevated pulse and blood
pressure, see elevated MCV, and patient
begins to act bizarre, talk to family if at all
possible, about substance use. If patient
enters delirium tremens (DT’s), untreated
has a mortality rate of 20%.
Delirium vs. Dementia
• How is delirium treated?
 First line treatment for delirium is to treat underlying
cause. Often will need many labs- Complete Metabolic
Panel, Complete Blood Count, TFT, EEG if indicated,
CT/MRI of head, sometimes LP, etc.
 A psychiatric or psychological consult might be needed
for agitation.
 Meds- Haldol 2.5-5 mg (less for geriatric) or now,
Geodon 10-20 mg IM or Ativan IM
Delirium vs. Dementia
• A common problem in the US
– 5% of those over 65 have severe dementia, 15%
have mild dementia
– 20% those over 80 have severe dementia
– One of first distinctions you must make is
reversible from nonreversible.
– Only about 10-15% are reversible
Delirium vs. Dementia
• Nonreversible does not mean non treatable!
• Non reversible dementias– Alzheimer’s is most common by far, accounting for
about 70% of dementias.
– See a tempero-parietal wasting at first, leading you to
see the memory loss and speech problems first. The
“lost keys”sign.
– Then will progress to global atrophy of brain.
– Genetics a risk factor (up to 35-40% patients have a
family history of Alzheimer’s
• Reversible:
– D=
– E=
Drugs, Delirium
Emotions (such as depression) and
Endocrine Disorders
Metabolic Disturbances
Eye and Ear Impairments
Nutritional Disorders
Tumors, Toxicity, Trauma to Head
Infectious Disorders
Alcohol, Arteriosclerosis
• Irreversible:
Lewy Body Dementia
Pick’s Disease (Frontotemperal Dementia)
Heady Injury
Huntington’s Disease
Jacob-Cruzefeldt Disease
• Irreversible:
Alzheimer's most common type of irreversible
Multi-Infarct dementia second most common type of
irreversible dementia
• Death of cerebral cells
• Blockages of larger cerebral vessels, arteries
• More abrupt in onset
• Associated with previous strokes, hypertension
• Can be traced through diagnostic procedures
– Lewy Body Dementia
• Episodic confusion with intervals of lucidity with at
least one of the following:
1. Visual or auditory hallucinations
2. Mild extrapyramidal symptoms (muscle rigidity, slow
3. Repeated unexplained falls
• Progresses to severe dementia—found at autopsy.
 Diagnosis of Frontemporal Dementia (Pick’s
Pick’s bodies in cells.
Personality changes
Behavioral dis-inhibition.
Loss of social or personal awareness.
Disengagement with apathy
Maintain ability to draw and calculate well into later
Alzheimer's Disease
• Estimated that 4,000,000 people in U.S.
have Alzheimer's disease.
• Estimated that 25-35% of people over age
85 have some time of dementia.
• After age 65 the percentage of affected
people, doubles with every decade of life.
• Caring for patient with Alzheimer's disease
can cost $47,000 per year (NIH).
Changes Caused by Alzheimer's
Diminished blood flow
Neurofibrillary Tangles
Neuritic Plaques
Degeneration of hippocampus, cerebral
cortex, hypothalamus, and brain stem
Atrophic hippocampus in AD
Compare central sulcus of
Alzheimer’s patient with normal
81 year old woman
From Whole Brain Atlas at
74 year old AD patient: reduced blood
flow on SPECT in temporal areas
Normal vs AD Brain
Normal brain
Alzheimer’s brain
AD Prognosis
• Alzheimer’s has a slowly progressive
decline. These meds can slow the
progression, NOT halt it.
Pick’s disease
25 times rarer than Alzheimer’s dementia
Frontal lobe clinical features
Assymetrical frontal or temporal atrophy
Has been connected with semantic
dementia, but evidence is not conclusive yet
Case history: Pick's Disease
This 59 year old woman had a three year history of a
progressive alteration in social behavior which included
apathy and occasional disinhibition. Images reveal severe
focal shrinkage of temporal and frontal lobes bilaterally.
Degeneration of the basal ganglia
• Huntington’s disease
– Rare: 5 in 100,000
– abnormal ‘exaggerated movements
• Parkinson's disease
– Common: 1 in 100 over age 65
– General slowing of voluntary movements
• Both diseases involve the basal ganglia, but
in large opposite ways
Basal ganglia
Globus pallidus
Subthalamic nuclei
Substantia nigra
Multi-infarct dementia (MID)
• Many small strokes
• Often mixed with Alzheimer’s dementia
Viral dementia: HIV
• 20-60% of HIV patients suffers from
• Cerebral atrophy may be caused by
microglial nodules
Vocational Rehabilitation and
• Can dementia occur while an individual is
Is dementia covered under the American’s with
Disabilities Act?
Can jobs and tasks be modified to assist
individuals with mild forms of dementia?
Can job discrimination occur for these
What types of job modifications and/or assistive
technology can you think of for an individual with
End-stage Dementia
Prognosis < 6 mos:
• Severe dementia with need for total assistance in
ADLs (dressing, bathing, continence), unable to
walk, only able to speak a few words
• Comorbid conditions – aspiration pneumonia,
urosepsis, decubiti, sepsis
• *Unable to maintain caloric intake with weight
loss of 10% or more in 6 months (and no feeding
Complications from dementia
Delusions in up to 50%, most with paranoia
Hallucinations in up to 25%
Depression, social isolation may also occur
Aggressive behavior in 20-40% (may be related to
above problems, misinterpretation)
• Dangerous behavior – driving, creating fires,
getting lost, unsafe use of firearms, neglect
• Sundowning – nocturnal episodes of confusion
with agitation, restlessness
Treatment of complications
• Hallucinations, delusions, agitation, sun-downing may be
improved with anti-psychotics like haloperidol, risperdal,
If any signs of depression, may be beneficial to treat
Anxiety may respond to benzodiazepines
Behavioral mod – reinforce good behavior, DON’T fight
aggressive behavior
Familiarity (change in environments make things worse)
Safety – key locks, knobs off stoves, take away car
keys/cigarettes/firearms…, lights, watch stairs
Avoid restraints, use human contact/music/pets/
Artificial Nutrition in Dementia
• Many excellent reviews demonstrate no
improvement in quality of life and quantity
of life with G-tubes.
5% morbidity and mortality with the
procedure itself
No decrease in aspiration with them
Risk of infection
Can keep patient comfortable without it
Complications from dementia
Delusions in up to 50%, most with paranoia
Hallucinations in up to 25%
Depression, social isolation may also occur
Aggressive behavior in 20-40% (may be related to
above problems, misinterpretation)
• Dangerous behavior – driving, creating fires,
getting lost, unsafe use of firearms, neglect
• Sundowning – nocturnal episodes of confusion
with agitation, restlessness
Drug treatment in Alzheimer’s
• Many drugs aim to stimulate the cholinergic
• These drugs have limited positive effects
and do not reverse the causes of AD
Dementia patients are very
sensitive to additional disabilities
Poor hearing
Poor vision
Management of depression at end
of life
• Psychotherapy – behavioral, cognitive, and other
supportive approaches by psychologists, licensed
social workers, chaplains, even bereavement
counselors may help
• New coping strategies like meditation, relaxation,
guided imagery, hypnosis may help
• Medications
• Women attempt it twice as much, but men are 4x more
likely to succeed
• White men over 85 are at highest risk to do it
• All patients with depressive symptoms should be assessed
for it
• Talking about it can decrease risks
• High risk of attempt if thoughts are recurring or if have
thought out the plan
• If risk high – DON’T leave client alone, immediately
consult a psychiatrist – may need in-patient care or
involvement of authorities
• May be a normal response to the situation – fears,
uncertainty, reaction to physical condition, social
or spiritual needs
• Usually with 1 or more of the following signs –
agitation, restless, sweating, tachycardia,
hyperventilation, insomnia, excessive worry,
• Look for signs of depression, delirium,
alcohol/drug abuse, caffeine abuse
• About 5% are affected by agoraphobia
Related anxiety conditions
• Panic attacks – acute onset of palpitations,
sweating, hot, shaking, chest pain, nausea, dizzy,
derealization, fear, numbness; usually short lived
• Phobias – fears with avoidance, feelings of being
trapped, exposed
• Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome – in response to
severe trauma, get more intense fear, terror,
dreams, feelings of helplessness, detachment that
can occur later on
Other EOL care needs for dementia
• In bedbound, watch out for and prevent decubiti
• Feeding instructions to prevent aspiration – head
up, chin tucked, thick consistency foods like
pudding/jello/ice cream…
• Caregiver stress – difficult care, poor sleep,
education to prevent aggressive behavior, early
bereavement losing loved one before they are
gone, need for support/respite
• A change in mental or emotional status of the
patient is not uncommon with a life-threatening
• Need to be aware of conditions that may be
normal reactions or have causes that are
potentially reversible, but at the end of life, may
need to focus on acute management of these
• Need compassionate, supportive care for patient
and caregiver, always addressing safety
• Alzheimer’s Association:
• National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke’s page on dementia:
• How to manage difficult behaviors from the
Association for Frontotemporal Disorders:

Dementia - University of Florida