what is dementia and what are the symptoms

What is Dementia

Dementia is a mental state characterized by a loss of intellectual ability that is long-lasting and consists of a significant decline in memory and other intellectual functions that are needed to carry out every-day activities. While there are many different types of dementia with many different causes, all of the types share a common set of symptoms.

If you think that a friend or relative is becoming confused and isn’t quite their usual self, it may help to look at this list of common symptoms of the early stages of dementia.

Types of Dementia

Some types of dementia are irreversible and progressive. This means they are not curable and get worse over time. This is not true for all types of dementia, especially if detected early.

Types of dementia include:

  • Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type
    • Approximately 50 percent of all cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Vascular Dementia
    • Vascular dementia is cause by small strokes that stop blood flow to parts of the brain.
  • Dementia Due to Other General Medical Conditions
    • Medical conditions that can cause dementia include HIV, head trauma, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, metabolic disorders, and hypoglycemia.
  • Substance-Induced Persisting Dementia
    • The use of a substance such as alcohol or the sudden withdrawal from a substance can cause dementia. This is diagnosed only if the symptoms last beyond normal withdrawal time for the substance.
  • Dementia Not Otherwise Specified
    • This is the category for dementia that doesn’t fit in an above category.

Dementia differs from delirium, which is characterized by a state of sudden confusion. Dementia is not part of the normal aging process nor is it mental retardation or psychosis. There are medications and therapies that can help manage the symptoms of the disease, making life easier for the patient and his/her family.

Symptoms of Dementia

  • Memory impairment – Forgetting information, forgetting to finish tasks.
  • Language difficulty – Problems with speaking or naming objects; decreased comprehension of written and spoken word.
  • Motor skill impairment – Problems in performing basic activities such as combing hair and drawing.
  • Abstract thinking disturbance – Difficulty with planning, organizing, reasoning etc.
  • Identification impairment – Difficulty recognizing objects as common as pencils and chairs, even difficulty recognizing family members and remembering the past.

These symptoms can be confused with other conditions such as depression, stress or a reaction to bereavement. However, if you are at all concerned, please make an appointment to go to see a medical doctor with your friend or relative.

Treatment for Dementia

A physician should be contacted whenever symptoms suggest the possibility of dementia. In most cases, dementia is treated by addressing the underlying cause of the symptoms, for example, a stroke. Treatment is essential in cases that can be slowed or stopped to avoid any further damage to the brain. Alcohol and drug induced dementia may require the addition of supplements for vitamin deficiencies and a strict abstinence program. Alzheimer’s disease is now being treated in many different ways through medications and other substances. Parkinson’s disease can also lead to dementia and its treatment often parallels that of Alzheimer’s disease.

Aside from the specific treatments for the causes of dementia, there are many possible considerations that can be addressed to improve the quality of life for those suffering from dementia. Some of these considerations are:

  • Coexisting problems such as depression, delusions, and other such conditions can make a person with dementia’s life very difficult. Treating these coexisting problems with available medications and treatments can make day to day living much more bearable.
  • All medications that the person is taking should be discussed with a physician and/or reviewed by a pharmacist for drug interactions or side effects. For example, in Parkinson’s disease, the drugs used to treat the disease can cause some dementia-like symptoms. The emphasis in the above suggestions focuses on how to uncomplicated the life of a person with dementia.
  • Lowering frustrations and decreasing stress can make life simpler in the face of dementia. Ways to accomplish this end include daily routines, the presence of clocks and calendars, checklists, diaries, enough rest, balanced meals, and familiar objects. By decreasing the amount of change in a the person’s life, they can become familiar with the surroundings and routines and will be less frustrated by their ability to remember. This also helps reduce caregivers stress and frustration.
  • Taking care of safety concerns can also make life easier. Falling down stairs may be a concern. If they forget to finish tasks, leaving the stove on or the water running may be a concern. These instances may mean moving the person into a safer and more supervised environment. Ways to ensure safety can include purchasing personal alarms; installing double-dead bolt locks; notifying local police of person’s tendency to wander; using ID bracelets; changing car locks; placing locks on cabinets with knives, poisons and other dangerous items; helping link the taking of medications to times and other memory aides; and putting food out on the counter when you are leaving.

Above all, treat the person with understanding and love. The sufferer of dementia may exhibit behavior that can be difficult to handle, but if you show caring, that attitude will create more positive outcomes than would anger or impatience.