What You Should Know About Dementia
by Tracey Pollack
Dementia steals more than memories. It can take away your happiness, independence, and overall quality of life. Few people really understand the cognitive disorder, as well as how to spot the symptoms and deal with the diagnosis. To help avoid any confusion, take a moment to learn the details about dementia in case it happens to you or someone you love sooner than you think.
You may be surprised to learn that dementia is not a disease in itself. It’s actually a general term that describes various changes in brain function and a cluster of symptoms that lead to difficulties with memory, thinking, problem-solving, language, reasoning and behavior. These neurological changes result from damage to the brain cells and trigger a decline in cognitive skills that is severe enough to affect someone’s daily life, their normal functioning and their relationships with others.
While there are many kinds of dementia, the most common example is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60% to 80% of the cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Many dementias are progressive, which means that the symptoms appear slowly and then worsen over time. This makes it important to understand the early symptoms so you can seek help right away.
Remember the Symptoms
The symptoms of dementia will vary from person to person. The earliest signs are very subtle and usually go unnoticed before getting impossible to ignore. The most common symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Trouble with familiar tasks
- Misplacing everyday objects
- Difficulty solving problems
- Confusion about places and times
- Problems with speaking, talking and reading
- Poor decision-making
- Changes in mood or personality
- Withdrawal from friends, family and social activities
Figure Out the Causes
Doctors know that dementia results from damage to the brain cells, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause because dementia can stem from a variety of diseases and conditions. The most common causes are neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but other reasons include vascular dementia which affects blood circulation in the brain, as well as traumatic brain injuries, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, long-time alcohol use and side effects from medication.
Consider the Diagnosis
Most people experiencing symptoms of dementia will first visit their family doctor, they are usually soon referred to a neurologist, who is a specialist with the expertise to diagnose dementia. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard test to determine whether a person has dementia. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), doctors only make a diagnosis after a complete medical assessment, including medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, neurological and cognitive tests, brain scans, a psychological evaluation and genetic testing. Only after these tests can a doctor detect if the cause is a treatable condition. Even if the cause cannot be treated, determining the reason allows the doctor to prescribe medications that can help improve the symptoms and the family’s quality of life.
Learn About Possible Treatment
While there isn’t a cure for dementia, there are various medications, non-drug therapies and lifestyle changes that can help improve the symptoms and the quality of life for those facing dementia and their caregivers. The treatment depends on the cause, with some medications and non-drug therapies temporarily improving the symptoms. For many, the only way to manage the symptoms is through supportive lifestyle changes, such as establishing routines and creating a calm environment. Fortunately, research continues to find better ways to treat the disorder in the hope of slowing and stopping its progression.
Hopefully, knowing the facts about dementia provides you with greater peace of mind.