Dementia is the gradual loss of mental skills and abilities that starts off with visible signs of issues with memory loss. There are multiple kinds of dementia such as Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia), vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and lewy body dementia. Dementias that get worse over time (such as the ones listed) are the most common. The multiple kinds of dementias are categorized by the area of the brain that is affected and whether or not the dementia is progressive.
There are a number of symptoms that people experience with dementia, memory loss being the most common symptom as well as the earliest to set in. Other symptoms of dementia include:
- Inability to recognize specific people or places
- Difficulty carrying out basic tasks such as cooking, managing finances and writing a letter
- Not maintaining personal hygiene (brushing teeth, hair, bathing)
- Problems recalling recent events
- Difficulty controlling moods or behaviors, particularly depression and aggression
- Difficulty communicating
- Inability to reason and use sound judgment
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Difficulty with motor functions and coordination
The intellectual and social abilities that are impaired as a result of dementia are brought on by a number of causes. Strokes, head injuries and tumors are the three most common causes of dementia as well as old age. There are also a number of causes of dementia that are treatable. Thyroid gland issues, depression, vitamin B12 deficiencies and fluid buildup in the brain are all treatable causes of this cognitive disorder.
Dementia is diagnosed by a number of tests and questions administered to the patient by a health professional. Questions about the individuals medical history, physical examinations, a mental status exam, lab and imaging tests are all used to determine if the patient has dementia and if so, the form of this disease. The mental status exam includes the patient drawing pictures of basic things they would see every day such as a clock, counting and repeating words, all to test the level of severity. Lab and imaging tests include blood work and MRIs.
Though dementia cannot be reversed, there are a number of treatments that can be used to make life as easy as possible for the patient. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are both drugs used to increase the level of activity in the chemicals involved in brain function. In addition, there are a number of treatments available that can be used to minimize the symptoms of dementia such as high blood pressure, blood clots, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
A common form of dementia, vascular dementia is brought on by brain damage caused by issues with the arteries that are directly connected with the brain and heart. Generally the result of a stroke, the symptoms with vascular dementia include mainly memory loss and confusing and severe mood changes. Often coexisting with Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia is usually seen with old age.
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These areas are involved with language, personality and behavior. As a result, difficulty with language, moods and behavioral problems are common symptoms. The cause of this particular form of dementia is not known, but researchers believe it is a result of a genetic mutation.
Lewy Body Dementia
Caused by abnormal clumps of protein found in the brain, lewy body dementia is similar in symptoms to Alzheimer’s. However, unique characteristics of this disease setting it apart from Alzheimer’s are random fluctuation in confusion, periods of clear thinking, hallucinations and body tremors, similar to those seen with Parkinson’s disease. Having complications with REM sleeping is another common symptom in which the individual will yell out in their sleep, thrash about and kick.