What is Dementia?
For starters, it is essential to realize that dementia is not a disease. Dementia can be defined as a decline in cognitive function. This condition causes mental impairment affecting at least two of the following brain functions: thinking, memory, language, behavior, and judgment.
Dementia may result due to ailment or injury. Mental impairment resulting from dementia may range from mild to severe and may even contribute to personality changes.
Approximately 10% of people aged between 65 and 74 years and one-fourth of people older than 85 live with some form of dementia.
What are the Early Symptoms of Dementia?
Dementia is not characterized by loss or change in memory.
In its early stages, dementia may result in some of the following symptoms:
- Struggling to cope with change
- Changes in short-term memory
- Struggling to say the right words
- Being repetitive during a conversation
- Confused sense of direction
- Changes in emotions and moods
- Loss of interest in everyday hobbies and activities
- Struggling to complete everyday tasks
- Confusion and loss of familiarity
- Struggling to keep up with conversations
What are the Stages of Dementia?
There are different variants of dementia. Some cases get progressively worse with the passage of time, whereas others are treatable and may even be reversible.
That said, dementia can be categorized into four main stages.
Mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is prevalent in older individuals. MCI commonly presents itself as short-term memory issues, forgetfulness, struggling to recall words, and more. MCI is not considered critical as it may never develop into dementia or any other form of mental impairment.
At the mild dementia stage, individuals may present with the following symptoms.
- lapses in short-term memory
- changes in mood and personality
- forgetfulness or misplacing things
- struggling with task completion and problem-solving
- struggling to emotional expression
Individuals with moderate dementia often require assistance from a caregiver or a loved one as their dementia may interfere with their day-to-day activities. Symptoms of moderate dementia include:
- lack of judgment
- increased frustration and confusion
- requiring assistance with everyday tasks
- significant changes in personality
- memory loss that goes further into the past
Severe dementia is characterized by deteriorating mental and physical symptoms. These symptoms include:
- inability to maintain bodily functions, like walking, swallowing, bladder control
- inability to communicate with others
- needing full-time assistance
- increased risk of acquiring infections
Dementia progression is non-linear and varies individually.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia may result due to a multitude of reasons. It results as a general outcome of neuron (brain cell) degeneration or fluctuations in body systems that affect neuronal function.
Neurodegeneration refers to the progressive loss of neuron function, impaired function, and eventual neuron death. It affects synapses, i.e., neuron-to-neuron connections that help transmit messages to and from the brain.
Common causes of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Vascular dementia
- Side effects of medication
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Chronic alcoholism
- Certain brain infections or tumors
Another cause of dementia in frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Frontotemporal lobar degeneration is a blanket term used to explain a range of conditions that damage the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. These conditions include Pick’s disease, supranuclear palsy, and corticobasal degeneration.
Other causes of dementia include:
- Structural brain disorders (normal-pressure hydrocephalus, subdural hematoma)
- Metabolic disorders (hypothyroidism, vitamin B-12 deficiency, kidney and liver disorders)
- Toxins (lead)
The most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
What are the Types of Dementia?
Different types of dementia result from different diseases. The most common types of dementia are as follows:
- Alzheimer’s disease: This is the most common type of dementia, accounting for approximately 60 to 80% of all dementia cases.
- Vascular dementia: This type of dementia results due to reduced blood flow in the brain. Reduced blood flow may be due to a stroke or plaque buildup in the arteries that carry blood to the brain.
- Lewy body dementia: Lewy body dementia is caused by protein deposits in neurons that prevent the brain from sending chemical signals. This mechanism results in memory loss, lost messages, and delayed reactions.
- Parkinson’s disease: People with advanced Parkinson’s disease may develop dementia. Symptoms of dementia resulting from Parkinson’s disease include difficulties with judgment and reasoning, increased irritability, fear, anxiety, and depression.
- Frontotemporal dementia: Numerous types of dementia fall into this category as they are all affected by alterations in the brain’s front and side parts. Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include difficulty with behavior and language and loss of inhibitions.
How is Dementia Diagnosed?
Dementia can be diagnosed using an array of exams and tests. These include taking a detailed and thorough medical history, a physical exam, and laboratory tests, including blood tests. The individual’s family history of dementia is also assessed, and symptoms are reviewed (memory and behavioral changes).
The exact type of dementia can be diagnosed with the help of the aforementioned tests. However, in many cases, different dementia symptoms overlap, which makes a definite diagnosis quite challenging. Therefore, consulting a specialist is critical to confirm the type of dementia and its treatment and management plan.
How is Dementia Treated?
Two primary treatment modalities are employed to alleviate the symptoms of dementia, namely medications and non-drug therapies. Medication varies for each type of dementia, and no treatment is a guaranteed cure for the condition.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are treated using two main medications: Cholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine.
Cholinesterase inhibitors increase a chemical in the system called acetylcholine, which helps form memories and improve judgment. Acetylcholine delays any worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Memantine is used to delay the start of cognitive and behavioral symptoms in people suffering from moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease. Memantine helps people with Alzheimer’s maintain normal psychological functions for a prolonged period of time.
Both of these drugs may be prescribed together and may result in some side effects as well.
Non-drug therapies are employed to reduce some of the symptoms of dementia and alleviate some manageable complications of the condition. Common non-drug treatments for dementia include environmental modification, task modification, and occupational therapy.
How can Dementia be Prevented?
As per the results of a 2017 review, one-third of the reported case of dementia may be caused by different lifestyle factors. The review also identified nine risk factors that may increase an individual’s chances of developing dementia, including:
- midlife hypertension
- physical inactivity
- midlife obesity
- lack of education
- late-life depression
- hearing loss
- social isolation
Researchers suggest targeting these risk factors with specific treatment or intervention to delay or prevent some cases of dementia.
Dementia is not a fatal condition; however, it may progress faster, and impair brain function significantly if not attended to. Late-stage dementia is considered a terminal condition.
Dementia does not follow a timeline. Every individual’s condition varies from the other’s. Therefore, it is crucial to seek professional help as early as possible. Early diagnosis improves prognosis and promises better treatment outcomes.
About Ashley Rosa: Ashley Rosa is a freelance writer and blogger. As writing is her passion that why she loves to write articles related to the latest trends in technology and sometimes on health-tech as well. She is crazy about chocolates. You can find her at twitter: @ashrosa2.
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