What is Dementia?
Dementia is a loss of brain function that continues to worsen over time. It impairs your ability to think and remember, and reduces your ability to solve problems, communicate, or perform everyday tasks. It can interfere with a person’s immediate recall (memory) of words (dysnomia), names (anomia), objects (apraxia) and activities (agraphia). The disease may cause loss of short-term memory, judgment, ability to plan and organize, understand visual images and spatial relationships, comprehend spoken words, develop new memories from information from the past that is stored in the brain, or control emotions. It also includes movement problems such as stiffness (rigidity), immobility (bradykinesia) that don’t make meaningful movements (akinesia) and tremors similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Most dementias are progressive; they get worse over time. The disease develops slowly and may take months or years before it becomes severe enough to interfere with daily life. It often affects both memory and thinking skills severely in the early stages, but in some types of dementia, personality changes or difficulties with day-to-day tasks may appear first. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis are among the most common causes of dementia.
Dementia may be divided into two broad categories:
- Vascular (also called post-stroke) – Results from problems caused by stroke.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia – Includes multiple subtypes including early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (before age 65), late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (age 65 and older), and probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementias symptoms are not the same in every person and differ in severity depend on several factors, including what type a person has.
- Memory loss
- Stress and anxiety
- Difficulty with language
- Problems understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Trouble concentrating, paying attention, or focusing
- Mood changes such as anger, depression or apathy
- Extreme fearfulness and agitation
- Stiffness and rigidity
- Difficulty with walking, balance, coordination
- Trouble swallowing
- Social withdrawal
Dementia is diagnosed based on a complete medical history, including symptoms and how they have changed over time. Dementia may be difficult to diagnose in the early stages because it progresses slowly and can mimic depression or other conditions that cause mental changes such as extreme stress or fatigue.
The disease is diagnosed by our neurology team using blood tests, memory and cognition assessments, imaging aural hematoma (bleeding within the skull), and intrahepatic hemorrhage (bleeding into or around an organ). Head trauma may also cause dementia through prolonged seizures following impact or injury.
The disease is often difficult to diagnose because changes in brain function that cause dementia often do not show up on neuroimaging of the brain (such as CT or MRI scans). Dementia is not diagnosed unless it has lasted for at least six months and is usually diagnosed by ruling out other disease processes.
Dementia may be diagnosed when an individual has a disease that affects the brain that cannot be treated such as gum disease, dry mouth (xerostomia), cavities, or dental abscesses that can lead to infections throughout your body, including your brain.
Dementia may be hard to diagnose and treat because it is not a specific disease or illness. There is no cure for dementia, but medications can slow down and help manage some of the symptoms, and improve the quality of life for people living with this condition.
- Prevention: Prevention is possible through healthy lifestyle choices. Dementia prevention includes exercise, limited intake of alcohol, staying mentally active , social activities and not smoking.
- Exercise: Designed to train different parts of the brain and include things like working on activities that involve processing speed, fine motor coordination, visuospatial functions for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia exercise also includes memory training techniques that can help improve daily function in people living with dementia.
- Activities: Dementia activities include recognizing objects, sorting items into categories, and matching things that appear in like shapes. Dementia activities can help people living with the condition improve thinking and communication skills.
- Nutrition: Eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt may improve a patients symptoms. Dementia nutrition also helps prevent constipation by increasing the amount of fiber in the diet . Dementia nutrition can help people living with the disease eat less because it controls symptoms like nausea, vomiting or heartburn which may be caused by medications.