Dementia

What Is Dementia?

Dementia: Causes, Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

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Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging.

Because dementia is a general term, its symptoms can vary widely from person to person. 
Signs of Dementia

Symptoms of Dementia

Causes of Dementia

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Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected. The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions (for example, memory, judgment and movement). When cells in a particular region are damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally. Different types of dementia are associated with particular types of brain cell damage in particular regions of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer's disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. The brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain, and the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged. That's why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's.

While most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent and worsen over time, thinking and memory problems caused by the following conditions may improve when the condition is treated or addressed:

 

Types of Dementia

This is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. It is caused by specific changes in the brain. The trademark symptom is trouble remembering recent events, such as a conversation that occurred minutes or hours ago, while difficulty remembering more distant memories occurs later in the disease. Other concerns like difficulty with walking or talking or personality changes also come later. Family history is the most important risk factor. Having a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease increases the risk of developing it by 10 to 30 percent.

About 10 percent of dementia cases are linked to strokes or other issues with blood flow to the brain. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are also risk factors. Symptoms vary depending on the area and size of the brain impacted. The disease progresses in a step-wise fashion, meaning symptoms will suddenly get worse as the individual gets more strokes or mini-strokes.

In addition to more typical symptoms like memory loss, people with this form of dementia may have movement or balance problems like stiffness or trembling. Many people also experience changes in alertness including daytime sleepiness, confusion or staring spells. They may also have trouble sleeping at night or may experience visual hallucinations (seeing people, objects or shapes that are not actually there).

This type of dementia most often leads to changes in personality and behavior because of the part of the brain it affects. People with this condition may embarrass themselves or behave inappropriately. For instance, a previously cautious person may make offensive comments and neglect responsibilities at home or work. There may also be problems with language skills like speaking or understanding.

ometimes more than one type of dementia is present in the brain at the same time, especially in people aged 80 and older. For example, a person may have Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It is not always obvious that a person has mixed dementia since the symptoms of one type of dementia may be most prominent or may overlap with symptoms of another type. Disease progression may be faster than with one kind of dementia.

People who have dementia may have a reversible underlying cause such as side effect of medication, increased pressure in the brain, vitamin deficiency, and thyroid hormone imbalance. Medical providers should screen for reversible causes in patients who are concerning for dementia.

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Treatment of Dementia

Treatment of dementia depends on the underlying cause. Neurodegenerative dementias, like Alzheimer’s disease, have no cure, though there are medications that can help protect the brain or manage symptoms such as anxiety or behavior changes. Research to develop more treatment options is ongoing. Leading a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and maintaining social contacts, decreases chances of developing chronic diseases and may reduce number of people with dementia.
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