Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Dementia is basically a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. It is not a specific disease. Dementia may also cause emotional problems, difficulties with language and a decrease in motivation.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, which makes up 50% to 70% of cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. It is possible that more than one type of dementia may exist in the same person.

Diagnosis is usually based on the history of illness and cognitive testing with medical imaging and blood tests to rule out other possible causes. There is no known cure for dementia; thus, educating and providing emotional support to the caregiver is important. Exercise may be beneficial with respect to activities of daily living which can potentially improve outcomes.

Dementia affected about 46 million people globally, in 2015. Dementia becomes more common with age and about 3% of people between the ages of 65–74, 19% between 75 and 84, and nearly half of those over 85 years of age have dementia.

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How Does Dementia Affect Your Body?

Different forms of dementia affect the body differently, but in one way or another, they all affect the brain. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which causes degeneration of brain tissue and nerve cells. Frontotemporal dementia causes damage to nerve cells, but only in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Lewy body dementia is caused by masses of protein in the brain known as Lewy bodies, and vascular dementia affects the arteries that move blood from the heart to the brain.

What Are The Causes of Dementia?

Since dementia is a group of diseases rather than being just one, thus several different diseases can cause dementia. The causes are mentioned below:

  • Causes of Alzheimer’s disease – This is one of the most common types of dementia. Deposits of amyloid and tau proteins are associated with loss of brain cells which causes this disease.
  • Cause of Vascular disease – This is caused by reduced flow to the brain because of which nerve cells work less functionally and die.
  • Cause of dementia with Lewy bodies – Lewy bodies are a type of proteins which when developing in the brain, can damage the way the cell work and communicate with each other.
  • Cause of frontotemporal dementia – It is seen in younger people and is caused by an abnormal clumping of proteins.

There are other rare causes which may lead to dementia.

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What Are The Risk Factors of Dementia?

  • Age – The risk of dementia rises with age, especially after 65. However, it can occur in younger people too.
  • Family history – A family history of dementia puts one at greater risk of developing the condition.
  • Down syndrome – People with Down syndrome are at a risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease early.
  • Mild cognitive impairment – People having difficulties with memory but without any loss of daily function are at higher risk of dementia.
  • Alcohol – Large amounts of alcohol might cause a higher risk.
  • Depression – Late-life depression might indicate the development of dementia.
  • Diabetes – Patients with diabetes might have an increased risk of dementia, especially if it’s poorly controlled.
  • Sleep apnea – People who snore and have episodes where they frequently stop breathing during sleep may have reversible memory loss.
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What Are The Symptoms of Dementia?

Symptoms of dementia include forgetfulness, limited social skills, and impaired thinking ability that interferes with daily functioning.

  • Cognitive symptoms include memory loss, confusion in the evening hours, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language, making things up, mental confusion, or inability to recognize common things.
  • Behavioral symptoms include irritability, personality changes, restlessness, lack of restraint, or wandering and getting lost.
  • Psychological symptoms include depression, hallucination, or paranoia.
  • Muscular symptoms include the inability to combine muscle movements or unsteady walking.
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How is Dementia Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of dementia requires at least two core mental functions to be impaired enough to interfere with daily living like memory, language skills, ability to focus and pay attention, ability to reason and problem-solve, and visual perception.

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests – To evaluate cognitive functioning, several tests are performed which include thinking skills such as memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills, and attention.
  • Neurological evaluation – To evaluate memory, language, visual perception, attention, problem-solving, movement, senses, balance, reflexes and other areas.
  • CT and MRI –  To check for evidence of stroke, bleeding, tumor or hydrocephalus.
  • PET scans – To show patterns of brain activity and the locate any depositions of the amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Blood tests – To detect physical problems that can affect brain function, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland.
  • Psychiatric evaluation – To determine whether depression or another mental health condition is contributing to your symptoms.
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How to Prevent And Control Dementia?

  • Mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, solving puzzles, playing word games, and memory training, might delay the onset of dementia and decrease its effects.
  • Physical activity and social interaction might help to delay the onset of dementia and reducing its symptoms.
  • Studies have shown smoking is related to an increased risk of dementia and blood vessel (vascular) conditions. Thus, smoking should be avoided, especially by teenagers.
  • People with low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Add vitamin D through certain foods, supplements and sun exposure to the body.
  • Maintain a healthy diet by including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in certain fish and nuts.

Treatment of Dementia – Allopathic Treatment

Medications –

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors – These include donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Razadyne). They work by boosting levels of a chemical messenger involved in memory and judgment. These may also be prescribed for other dementias, including vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and Lewy body dementia.
  • Memantine – This medicine works by regulating the activity of glutamate, another chemical messenger involved in brain functions, such as learning and memory.

Therapies –

  • Occupational therapy – The purpose of this therapy is to prevent accidents, such as falls; manage behavior, and prepare you for the dementia progression.
  • Modifying tasks – Breaking tasks into easier steps, structuring activities, and following a routine may also help reduce confusion in people with dementia.

Treatment of Dementia – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Nux Vom – This is used in cases of dementia where the patient is extremely sensitive to the words and actions of others and is always seeking attention. There is a suicidal tendency in the patient.
  • Mercurius – This is given to patients with dementia who have developed a groveling mentality. Memory weakens to a great extent and the patient has problems with vision, unpleasant odor and a heavily coated tongue.
  • Ignatia – This homeopathic medicine is given to people who have an extremely sensitive mind, which leads to depression and grief due to failure in relationships.
  • Calcaria Carb – Calcaria Carb is an effective medicine used in cases of dementia where the brain and other organs do not develop properly. The patient is usually very slow in learning something.
  • Lycopodium – This medicine is prescribed when dementia affected people experience great depression, become despondent and constantly worry about themselves and their activities.
  • Staphisagria – A treatment for dementia characterized by sleeplessness.
  • Chamomilla – This is for treating dementia with acute sensitiveness.

Dementia – Lifestyle Tips

  • Avoid brain injury
  • Play mind games which can increase brain activity
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet
  • Get quality sleep
  • Maintain good cardiovascular health
  • Quit smoking
  • Stay socially engaged
  • Stay involved in social activities
  • Treat depression

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Dementia?

The following exercises are recommended for a person with dementia:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Aerobics
  • Dancing

Dementia & Pregnancy – Things to Know

Pregnancy history can reflect if a woman is suffering from dementia or not. Studies on the relationship between dementia and pregnancy are still being processed.

Common Complications Related to Dementia

Some of the common complications caused due to dementia are:

  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Pneumonia
  • Inability to perform self-care tasks
  • Personal safety challenges
  • Death

FAQs

Q. I keep forgetting things, have I got Alzheimer’s?

A. This is not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. In dementia, memory loss is more serious than forgetting things occasionally, for example getting lost while going to a near shop.

Q. Is dementia a natural part of aging?

A. Just because dementia affects people as they get older, it’s not a normal part of aging. About nine out of ten older people don’t develop dementia.

Q. Can coconut oil, ginseng, caffeine, green tea, and other herbs help prevent dementia?

A. There is currently no conclusive evidence that these could prevent or treat dementia in people.

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