What is Dementia?
Dementia is an overall deterioration in mental functions. The higher functions are learning, language, reasoning, body orientation, etc. The loss of any one of the higher functions along with memory associated problems is characteristic of dementia. Often the condition is severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
Age-related memory loss is common and well known. In dementia however, the memory impairment is way more than just a senile behavior. This condition is associated with various diseases and syndromes and an immediate cause can be hard to decipher. The patient’s symptoms like mood disorders, lack of reasoning and judgment and inability to perform simple tasks may be overlooked and the disease might progress silently. It is important to not ignore gross memory loss of something that is a part of a person’s daily routine and get him/her screened for causes listed below.
What are the causes and risk factors for Dementia?
- Diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Wilson disease
- Long-standing infections like TB, HIV, syphilis, etc.
- Cancer in the brain (brain tumour)
- Poisoning by heavy metals
- Thyroid disorders like hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Endocrine disorders like Cushing’s syndrome
- Chronic alcoholism
- Age and heredity
What are the symptoms of Dementia?
- Impairment of memory: In the initial stages, the patient might experience lapses of memory. Dementia can progress to stages where the patient might even forget his/her name and age.
- Lack of judgment and reasoning
- Mood disorders: sudden sadness or joy or anger of varying intensities without any apparent cause
- Loss of control over bladder movements, difficulty in swallowing and other neurological manifestations like loss of sensations or decreased function of limbs
- Carelessness, no interest in maintaining self-hygiene, forgetting to bathe or change clothes
- In advanced dementia, the patient may just lie on the bed, not interact or take interest in anything
- Because of the lack of self-care and poor hygiene, chances of infections increase
- None of the above-mentioned symptoms should be dismissed on the grounds of senility and the elderly should be taken under medical supervision
How is Dementia diagnosed?
Investigations will be to find out the underlying cause and can vary from person to person depending on their health status. Some general investigations can be:
- Electroencephalography (EEG): Records the electrical activity of the brain and shows abnormalities if present.
- CT scan: Helps to visualize structural abnormalities or disease of the brain
- MRI and PET can also be used for visualization of abnormalities in the brain
- CSF analysis
Also Read: Can Stroke Cause Dementia in Elderly?
Other disease and organ-specific tests can include:
- Liver function tests
- Kidney function tests
- Endocrine profile
- Specific tests for syphilis
- Estimation of serum chemicals and metabolites of heavy metals
What is the treatment for Dementia?
As mentioned above, the cause of dementia can be diverse. Dementia is not completely curable but supportive treatment may delay complications.
Treatment is based on treating the underlying disease or condition. Treatment of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease with proper drugs might slow the progress of dementia. Medications for improving memory are also used. Infections are treated using appropriate antibiotics and other diseases have their specific treatments.
The basic principle is to keep the patient under observation and look for signs of improvement or worsening. These patients should avoid driving or going out alone. Proper hygiene should be maintained by the caretaker. Patients might forget taking medicines and therefore the caretaker should ensure that the course of treatment is completed. Mental sickness is hard to understand and deal with; the patient should be supported both medically and emotionally.
Early diagnosis and proper medical support can help prevent complications.
What are the complications with Dementia?
- Due to carelessness, patients are prone to accidents and fractures
- Lack of hygiene can give rise to infections
- Other underlying disease-related complications may arise
How can Dementia be prevented?
There are some steps that can be taken to slow the progress of dementia:
- Quit smoking
- Keep your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol in control
- Exercising regularly may lower the risk of occurrence of some types of dementia
- A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, seafood, nuts, and whole grains is beneficial in improving brain function. Avoid red meat.
- Dementia support groups can help older adults with dementia as well as caregivers to cope with the disease
Also Read: Caregiving guidelines for Dementia patients
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