What is dementia?
Dementia is not a specific ailment. Rather, it is the broad term used to refer to a group of symptoms that affect cognition, memory, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.
What causes Dementia?
Dementia can be caused by:
- Degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. These diseases progressively get worse with time
- Vascular disorders that affect the blood circulation in the brain
- Trauma to the brain due to falls, accidents, concussions, etc
- Infections of the central nervous system such as meningitis
- Excess alcohol or drug consumption
Symptoms of dementia
- Memory loss – For instance, the patient might repeatedly ask the same question
- Trouble doing familiar tasks – For example, difficulty in cooking or wearing clothes
- Communication problems – Trouble using language; difficulty in remembering common words or using the wrong ones
- Disorientation – Getting lost on a previously familiar street
- Problems with abstract thinking – For example, dealing with money
- Misplacing things – Forgetting where everyday items are kept
- Mood changes – Sudden, inexplicable mood swings
- Personality changes – Irritability, fearfulness, etc
- Loss of initiative – Decline in interest for starting anything new
Stages of dementia
There are two types of dementias- ones that progressively grow worse (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc.), and those that don’t worsen with time. The progressive forms of dementia pass through roughly four stages. At first, there’s just mild cognitive impairment, which progresses to mild and then moderate dementia followed by a stage where the impairment caused by the symptoms is extremely severe.
Diagnosis of dementia
Diagnosing dementia is not easy. A diagnosis of dementia requires that at least two key cognitive functions (from among memory, attention, reasoning, visual perception, and language skills) be affected adversely enough to interfere with daily living.
Doctors usually base their diagnosis on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function, and behavior associated with each type. Cognitive tests, neurological tests, psychiatric tests, and brain scans can be used for the purpose of making a diagnosis.
Treatment for dementia
Most types of dementia cannot be cured, but there are options available to help manage symptoms.
Medication drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine work by regulating the levels of certain chemicals messengers responsible for different aspects of brain function such as memory, judgment, and learning.
Several dementia symptoms and behavior problems might be treated initially using nondrug approaches, such as occupational therapy, environmental modifications and task modifications which essentially aim to equip the patient to cope with the requirements of daily life.
Alternative therapies such as music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, aromatherapy, and massage therapy have also been found to be helpful in reducing agitation and promoting relaxation among dementia patients.
Caring for someone with dementia
Caring for someone with dementia is physically and emotionally demanding. These tips might help you tackle the situation better.
- Educate yourself about the disease.
- Take breaks from caregiving at scheduled times during the week
- Care for your physical, emotional and spiritual health
- Join a support group