What is Dementia?

By  , Expert Content
Feb 24, 2012

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Becoming forgetful as we get older is common. Slight loss of memory affects many people but it does not affect their daily lives. If a person has memory loss that affects the person’s day-to-day activities and this tends to get worse,  it may be due to dementia.

People with dementia have problems with memory and other mental skills (thinking and behaviour), that can affect daily life. The symptoms develop slowly and worsen as the disease progresses and can become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. The rate of progress can vary – some people may stay the same for years, whereas others may have rapid decline of mental functions.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by injury or changes in the brain which may or may not be reversible. Some common causes of dementia which cannot be reversed with treatment include Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia. Some treatable causes of dementia include underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), vitamin B12 deficiency, lead poisoning, certain brain tumours and chronic alcoholism.

Age is an important risk factor for dementia—the risk increases as you get older. However all elderly are not affected by dementia. Dementia is rare before age 60 but after age 85, about 50% of all adults have it.

Signs and symptoms of dementia

  • Memory loss is usually the first sign of dementia. Dementia affects short-term memory initially but in later stages, all the aspects of memory are affected.
  • Trouble or difficulty in recalling recent events.
  • Forgetting familiar people and places.
  • Difficulty in finding right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations
  • Difficulty in doing calculations, planning and carrying out tasks, such as balancing a checkbook, paying bills
  • Difficulty in making decisions such as what to do if food is burning on the stove; if there is pussy suddenly in front of the car while driving
  • Frequent change of moods or behaviours (such as depression, agitation or aggression)
  • Not taking care of personal hygiene such as grooming or bathing.

Treatment of dementia

The doctor will rule out treatable causes of dementia but if it cannot be reversed, the aim of treatment is to make life as easy as possible for the concerned person and the caregivers. Medications do not cure dementia but may help to improve mental function, mood, or behaviour. Some of the medicines that may be prescribed include cholinesterase inhibitors (such as donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine), and memantine to improve or maintain mental function. Medications may be prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, agitation, aggression, and hallucinations.

Dementia cannot be prevented in most cases, but certain measures which may help to prevent worsening of symptoms include controlling risk factors of stroke such as high blood pressure, diabetes; adopting measures of healthy living; eating healthy; being physically and mentally active.



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