Dementia is not a single disease, but an umbrella term for various disorders that severely affect the mental functioning of the individuals. Sometimes dementia gets so severe that it gravely affects an individual’s ability to carry out his/her daily activities. Of the several forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.
The other form of dementia is the vascular one which generally develops after an individual has had a stroke. Of the several cases, about 40% cases, accounts for the vascular type.
Memory loss is one of the primary signs of dementia. However, merely having memory loss does not mean that one has developed this disease condition. Dementia is characterized by impairment of at least two vital brain functions such as memory loss and language problems. Individuals with dementia face difficulties in performing some of the daily functions such as driving, paying bills, recognizing people and familiar faces. Confusion and changes in personality are some of the most common attributes of this cognitive disorder. Individuals also exhibit certain grave changes in their social behavior.
It also requires mention that, some of the signs and symptoms of dementia are reversible and treatable. Treatment should be focused on treating the cause which would go a long way in effective management of the symptoms.
Dementia is basically caused due to diseases like Alzheimer’s, which in the long run affects an individual so much that he/she contracts this disease condition. The symptoms governing this disease condition depend on the part of the brain affected and the severity of the disease as well. Dementia disease is a progressive one and the symptoms can gradually worsen with time.
Dementia Symptoms and Signs:
Symptoms of dementia depend on the cause and severity of the condition. The signs and symptoms include the following:
- Memory loss – both short term and long term
- Changes in the personality
- Unexplained irrational behavior
- Difficulty in communication
- Obsession or fear with person or situations
- Facing difficulty in planning and organization of tasks
- Trouble in coordination
- Difficulty in motor functions
- Inability to reason out things
- Trouble in judgment of distance; for example when climbing stairs one may miss a step due to problem with judging the distance between each step
- Difficulty in seeing 3 – dimensional objects
In addition to cognitive symptoms, individuals with dementia often showcase symptoms, explaining mood changes such as:
- Getting agitated easily and for no reason known
- Being sad or upset for no known reason
- Unusual behavior
Individuals with dementia often also experience physical symptoms such as weight loss, muscle weakness, changes in appetite and disturbed sleep pattern. These symptoms show effect when the individuals have reached the third stage of the disease with no treatment.
Symptoms of dementia vary from individual to individual. In addition, the support and care received from caregivers and family members greatly affect the quality of life of such individuals. For example, it has been seen that individuals who receive adequate support from their family members, live a well-managed and good quality life as compared to those who receive little or no support. Providing care and support to individuals suffering from dementia would go a long way in treating and reversing the condition.
It is advised to caregiver and even the individuals with dementia who are experiencing the primary signs of memory loss and language problems to consult their doctor at the earliest. As the disease progresses into the later stages, it really gets difficult to treat and reverse the conditions. The early stage of the disease can be treated with medications and certain modifications in the lifestyle factors. In many cases it may so happen that the symptoms of dementia may be due to certain other associated conditions. It is therefore necessary to report the symptoms to the doctor at the earliest to find the actual cause of the disease.
Causes of Dementia:
Dementia develops when the brain cells get damaged. There are several types of dementia depending on the degree and the part of the brain cells damaged. The damage to the brain cells gravely affects the functioning of the brain, which in turn affects an individual’s ability to think and communicate effectively.
The brain is divided into many regions, each of which has its own distinct functions. Damage to any of these regions adversely affects the functioning of the brain, which also gradually affects an individual’s ability to carry out their daily tasks and activities. For example, a brain region known as hippocampus is responsible for memory and learning and any damage to this area will consecutively affect the memory and learning ability of the individual. In Alzheimer’s disease, excess of protein in the brain’s hippocampus region do not allow effective communication amongst the brain cells and it also makes them unhealthy. Therefore, memory loss is one of the primary signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Tests and Treatment of Dementia:
There are several tests to diagnose dementia. These include:
- Brain scans to examine the occurrence of stroke or tumor
- Blood tests for thyroid gland functioning and vitamin B12 levels
- Neurological examination to evaluate individual’s movement, balance, senses and reflexes
- Psychiatric evaluation to rule out depression as the underlying cause.
It needs to be very well understood that there are certain types of dementia that cannot be cured. The symptoms can however be managed with treatment. Various drugs that are prescribed for treatment of dementia are as follows:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine
- Other class of medications to take control over other secondary symptoms
In addition to these medications, the individuals are also put on certain therapies such as occupational therapy. A therapy of this kind teaches the individual “coping behaviors” which would help them adapt to the changing situations. In many instances, the preliminary stage of the dementia disease is often treated using the non – drug approach. In this, the individual is taught various therapies which in a way would help them live a quality life with well managed symptoms.