What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a very common medical condition among seniors. Our focus here is to provide a complete Dementia Guide. But first, let’s look at the definition of the disease.
Dementia is an umbrella term used for the deterioration of various facets of a person’s cognitive functions. It causes a gradual decline in brain activity, which profoundly impacts their day-to-day life. In this article, we will delve into Dementia and look at its causes, symptoms, and other relevant factors.
What Are the Causes of Dementia?
There are several different causes of Dementia. Some reasons might be:
- Neurological diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease)
- Disorders that affect the brain’s blood circulation
- Injuries that result in damage to the brain
- Long-term use of alcohol or drugs
In short, Dementia may occur if the nerve cells attached to the brain are impaired in any way. Damage to the nerve cells affects their communication with each other, which in turn affects an individual’s ability to think and feel.
Dementia Guide: Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia can make everyday life extremely difficult. This is because its effects on the brain lead to certain complications that make even the most basic actions seem tough. There may be a gradual decline of executive functions which may have the following results:
- Loss of parts of memory
- Inability to concentrate or focus on most tasks
- The fall in analytical skills may cause tasks that require reasoning to be rather difficult
- Disorientation and difficulty in recognizing even known places
Aside from that, another symptom of Dementia is a psychological decline in the form of mood swings, depression, anxiety, and changes in personality.
In the early stages of Dementia, the symptoms may be rather mild. As it progresses, they will worsen considerably. For example, in the initial stages, one might misplace items and forget things often. As it worsens and their cognitive skills decline, it might become increasingly difficult for them to think sensibly. They might place items in unusual places, like placing clothes in the refrigerator!
Dementia Guide: Early Signs of Dementia
Dementia is likely to affect different people in different ways, depending on the pre-conditions and causes for each patient. Thus, people with Dementia may not show the same signs or symptoms as each other. However, there are specific symptoms of Dementia that are quite common.
Some of those early signs of Dementia are:
- Memory loss
- Challenges in carrying out ordinary tasks
- Problems with speech or writing
- Inability to recognize familiar places or keep track of time
- Unstable mood swings
- Social withdrawal
Dementia Guide: Stages of Dementia
The following are the different stages of Dementia:
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
People suffering from MCI may experience short-term memory loss and forgetfulness in general. While this is the initial stage for most dementia patients, not all patients of MCI will advance to further stages. That is to say, MCI does not necessarily mean one will have Dementia in the future.
1. Mild Dementia
The patient will face the early signs of Dementia, such as memory lapses, mood swings, and other forms of cognitive decline. However, the patient may still function by themselves during this stage of Dementia, as the symptoms present are not very severe.
2. Moderate Dementia
If an individual reaches this stage, they might require support from one’s family or an institution. Daily life becomes very challenging, and they might need help for even mundane tasks like changing their clothes and bathing. The patient is likely to be very agitated, and significant changes in personality may also be observed.
3. Severe Dementia
At this stage of Dementia, the symptoms will have peaked. The patient will most likely be bedridden, and full-time care may need to be assigned. They may be unable to communicate properly, move about, or maintain control of their bowel and bladder. Due to the complications arising from the worsening symptoms, they will undergo severe mental and physical decline.
Dementia Guide: Types of Dementia
The common types of Dementia:
1. Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that gradually deteriorates most brain functions. It results in memory loss and the inability to think properly or do simple tasks.
2. Lewy body dementia (LBD)
Lewy bodies are deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. For this type of Dementia, Lewy bodies can affect chemicals in the brain resulting in LBD. The symptoms of Lewy body dementia are similar to that of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The patient might face stiffness of muscles and deterioration of cognitive functions. While antipsychotic medicines may help people with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, it may be dangerous for people who have Dementia with Lewy bodies to take such medication. Other symptoms of LBD include problems with sleep and hallucinations.
This is different from the previously mentioned types of Dementia. This type can occur as a result of damage to the brain because of cardiovascular problems or strokes. The symptoms of vascular Dementia may vary depending on the part of the brain affected. Certain medications may help to ease the damage and slow its progress.
4. Fronto Temporal Dementia (FTD)
This occurs when the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain have been damaged in any way. Those affected with FTD will show changes in their behavior. The patient may face emotional withdrawal as the disease progresses, causing declining interest in their surroundings.
This is a combination of any of two or more types of Dementia.
An individual may need to undergo various tests before they are diagnosed with the disease. Certain dementia tests will check their cognitive functions by assessing their problem-solving skills, memory, and other such abilities. Blood and other fluids may be tested to check for physical problems that may damage the brain. Brain scans can be used to detect tumors.
Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE)
One may choose to assess their cognitive functions at home with the SAGE. It is an online test that will take an average person an estimated 15 minutes to complete. It tests different aspects of an individual, including their mental orientation, short-term memory, and other executive functions. The test had been developed by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center as a tool for identifying Dementia in patients. The test is free to download and requires only a pen and paper. You can print out the test and take it home. Studies have shown that the SAGE has been useful in determining people with cognitive issues. However, it is not sufficient to self diagnose based on it. You must show the results of the SAGE to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE)
The MMSE is a quick and easy test to see if you may have any signs of dementia. It takes about five minutes with this screening tool to assess your skills in reading comprehension as well as other abilities such as orientation and short-term memory.
Brain Imaging Techniques
Brain imaging techniques like computed tomography (CT or CAT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography allow specialists to see inside the brain with greater detail than ever before. They are often used in conjunction with one another, but each has its specific purpose that helps rule out other conditions such as tumors, dead areas of brain tissue due to stroke, etc.
As mentioned before, different people are affected in different ways. This makes dementia diagnosis quite tricky. Doctors will generally check for underlying conditions that cause cognitive malfunction. These conditions need treatment before they progress to a worse stage of Dementia. The doctors may conduct an assessment in which the patient’s medical history is studied; the patient will undergo a physical exam and take some neurological tests.
In the case of progressive Dementia, at present, there is no treatment to stop its progression. Dementia treatment usually involves medications and therapies that may temporarily alleviate the symptoms of Dementia. You can deal with certain symptoms by using occupational therapy, modifying the patient’s environment, or simplifying daily activities by breaking them down into smaller tasks. There are dementia treatments for behavioral issues, sleeping problems, and other such symptoms. Non-drug treatments usually include setting up a timetable for the patient to follow so they can regularly take their meals, exercise, and avoid certain types of food.
Dementia medications are usually:
There are certain substances in the brain that help nerve cells to communicate. These medicines prevent an enzyme from harming those substances. Some of these medicines are Donepezil (Aricept), Galantamine (Razadyne, Reminyl), and Rivastigmine (Exelon). You can use them to treat specific symptoms of mild or moderate Alzheimer’s. Donepezil can treat severe Alzheimer’s as well. They may also aid in treating LBD or patients with mixed Dementia of Alzheimer’s and Vascular. Initially, one may face side effects such as nausea and appetite problems, but they should subside with time.
There are certain substances in the brain called “glutamate”. This medication helps to balance the amount of this substance in the brain. Memantine can treat moderate or severe Alzheimer’s, LBD, or mixed Dementia of Alzheimer’s and Vascular. There may be certain temporary side effects like dizziness, fatigue, constipation, headaches, and increased blood pressure.
Doctors may prescribe other dementia medications depending on the stage of Dementia and symptoms.
As we have learned throughout this article, life with Dementia can be very difficult. Even the smallest activities start to become challenging. Initially, one might manage by themselves, but as it progresses and reaches the later stages, the patient will indubitably require assistance. Those in need may consider Memory Care facilities where they will get 24/7 care. BoomersHub provides excellent Memory Care facilities in various locations around the United States. Patients will receive full-time care and consultation from experienced local advisors. Though life with such a disease may be a struggle, one does not need to go through it alone!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
The difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s include:
– Dementia is a syndrome, while Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia
– Dementia affects memory, thinking, and behavior, while Alzheimer’s specifically affects the memory
– Dementia can be caused by many different diseases or conditions, while Alzheimer’s is caused by plaques and tangles in the brain
Can you die from dementia?
Dementia does not cause death by itself but can cause many health problems that may lead to death. In some cases, the underlying causes of dementia-related health problems may be treatable, which could improve a person’s prognosis. However, in other cases, the health problems caused by dementia may be untreatable and lead to death.
Is dementia a mental illness?
No, dementia is not a mental illness. Dementia is a neurological disorder that results in a decline in cognitive function.
How to talk to someone with dementia?
Here are some tips to talk to someone with dementia:
- Talk slowly and clearly, using simple sentences
- Keep any sort of distractions away
- Use gestures and body language
- Listen carefully
- Be patient and understanding
How long do people live with dementia?
The answer to this question is difficult to determine as it varies from person to person. Some people may only live a few years, while others may live up to even 20 years.
Is dementia curable?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for dementia. However, there are treatments available that may help improve symptoms.