What is Dementia?
What is Dementia?
This term is the name given to a group of symptoms that arise from deterioration in the brain.
Dementia is a non-specific syndrome in which affected areas of brain function may be affected, such as memory, language, problem solving and attention. Dementia, unlike Alzheimer’s, is not a disease in itself. When dementia appears the higher mental functions of the patient are involved initially. Eventually, in the later stages, the person may not know what day of the week, month or year it is, he may not know where he is, and might not be able to identify the people around him.
These symptoms include memory loss, confusion, disorientation and lessening of intellectual functioning and are frightening to people who think they are at risk and can be bewildering for people who are experiencing the onset symptoms of the condition.
Studies are ongoing worldwide that are showing very hopeful signs that breakthroughs in the treatment of early stages of the disorder are very near at hand and there is real hope of significant advances being announced in the next few years..
What are the symptoms of dementia?
- Moodiness – the patient may become more and more moody as parts of the brain that control emotion become damaged. Moods may also be affected by fear and anxiety – the patient is frightened about what is happening to him.
- Memory loss – the patient may forget his way back home from the shops. He may forget names and places. He may find it hard to remember what happened earlier on during the day.
- Communicative difficulties – the affected person finds it harder to talk read and/or write.
As the dementia progresses, the patient’s ability to carry out everyday tasks diminishes and he may not be able to look after himself.
What are some of the other causes of dementia?
There are many causes of dementia, including neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, blood flow-related (vascular) disorders such as multi-infarct cognitive impairment, inherited disorders such as Huntington’s disease, and infections such as HIV. The most common causes of dementia include:
- Infections that affect the central nervous system, such as HIV dementia complex and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Degenerative neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal lobar degenerations, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Vascular disorders, such as multi-infarct dementia, which is caused by multiple strokes in the brain
- Chronic drug use
- Certain types of hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid within the brain that can result from developmental abnormalities, infections, injury, or brain tumors
According to the guidelines published by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) a person who has difficulties with one or more of the following activities should be evaluated for dementia:
- Ability to reason. The person finds it difficult to respond appropriately to everyday problems. Or, a previously responsible person may display poor judgment about social or financial matters.
- Learning and retaining new information. The person regularly misplaces objects, has trouble remembering appointments or recent conversations, or is repetitive in conversation.
- Handling complex tasks. The individual has trouble with previously familiar activities, like balancing a checkbook, cooking a meal, or other tasks that involve a complex train of thought.
- Spatial ability and orientation. Driving and finding one’s way in familiar surroundings become difficult or impossible, and the person may have problems recognizing known objects and landmarks.
- Language. The ability to speak or comprehend seems impaired, and the person may have problems following or participating in conversations.
- Behavior. Personality changes emerge. For example, the person appears more passive and less responsive than usual, or more suspicious and irritable. Visual or auditory stimuli may be misinterpreted.
What is the treatment for dementia?
In the majority of cases dementia is incurable. Researchers are making inroads into treatments that may slow down dementia’s progress. Cholinestaerase inhibitors are frequently administered during the early stages. Cognitive and behavioral therapies may also be useful. Several studies have found that music therapy helps patients with dementia. It is important to remember that the patient’s caregiver also needs training and emotional support.
In the USA, Tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and rivastigmine (Exelon) have been approved for the treatment of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease – some physicians prescribe these drugs for vascular dementia as well. Selegiline, which is used for treating Parkinson’s disease, has been found to slow down the progress of dementia.
In Canada, a country where two languages are spoken, English and French, researchers found that bilingual people who develop dementia do so four years later than monolingual people who develop dementia. The four year difference prevails even after factoring for such variables as cultural differences, education, employment, gender and immigration.