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Dementia - Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

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Dementia - Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

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If one is experiencing memory loss, confusion, and reduced concentration? These can be early symptoms of dementia. For more information, read the article.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At September 14, 2018
Reviewed AtMarch 22, 2024

Introduction:

Dementia is not a disease but is a medical term to describe a group of symptoms associated with memory loss as well as thinking and reasoning skills. The condition is severe enough to limit the person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most severe form of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. There are many factors contributing to dementia. Learn more about dementia, its causes, symptoms, treatment, and ways to prevent it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five million of the United States adult population (65 years and above) commonly suffer from Alzheimer’s and related dementia, and it is also the sixth leading cause of death in the country.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is not a disease. Rather it is a condition that affects memory, thinking, and other social abilities that can interfere with day-to-day activities and affect the quality of life. Even though dementia causes memory loss, it is not the only cause of memory loss. Multiple other reasons can result in memory loss.

What Are the Causes of Dementia?

Dementia can typically occur when there is damage to the connections of the nerve cells to the brain or when there is loss or death of nerve cells. This happens as a result of head injuries, brain tumors, stroke (brain damage due to interruption in the blood supply to the brain), and other causes.

What Are the Different Types of Dementia?

There are certain types of dementia that progress and that cannot be reversed. They include:

  • Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer's disease is one cause of dementia. It is considered that mutation of the genes does play a small role in causing this disease. Though several genes are involved in Alzheimer's disease, the most important gene that plays a role is apolipoprotein E4 (APOE).

  • Vascular Dementia: Vascular dementia is caused when there is damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. The common signs of vascular dementia are slow thinking, difficulty in problem-solving, and not being able to focus or concentrate.

  • Lewy Body Dementia: Lewy bodies are abnormal masses of protein that are found in people affected with Alzheimer's, Lewy body (accumulation of unknown protein particles in the brain), and Parkinson's disease (central nervous system disorder affecting movements).

  • Frontotemporal Dementia: This condition occurs when there is a breakdown of nerve cells and their connections in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

  • Mixed Dementia: People with this condition have a combination of multiple causes, such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

What Are the Risk Factors For Dementia?

The common risk factors for dementia are the following:

  • Age - Dementia is generally not a normal part of the aging process, but the risk of dementia increases as age increases. It can even occur in younger people.

  • Family History - People having a family history of dementia are at high risk of developing dementia.

  • People with Down syndrome (disorder in chromosome 21 causing intellectual and developmental delay).

  • Lack of Exercise - Studies are showing that lack of exercise can increase the risk of developing dementia.

  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption - Excessive alcohol consumption has been known to cause changes in the function of the brain. The use of alcohol has been known to be linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.

  • Depression.

  • Other factors like high blood pressure (hypertension), cholesterol, and obesity.

  • Diabetes (high blood glucose).

  • The habit of smoking.

  • History of head trauma.

  • Sleep disorders.

  • Nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate are known to increase the risk of dementia.

  • Certain medications can affect memory, such as drugs containing Diphenhydramine and drugs that are used to treat urinary problems, such as Oxybutynin.

What Are the Common Symptoms or Effects of Dementia?

The early signs and symptoms include forgetfulness, confusion, and the inability to recognize common things. The person may experience a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory loss, mental decline, and confusion, especially in the evening hours.

There is disorientation, inability to speak or understand a language, making up things, limited social skills, and loss of clear thinking abilities. Some other symptoms are as follows:

  • Behavioral: There is a feeling of irritability, personality changes, restlessness, lack of restraint or wandering, and getting lost.

  • Mood: There is anxiety, loneliness, mood swings, or nervousness.

  • Psychological: The person is depressed, has hallucinations, or is paranoid.

  • Muscular: There is an inability to combine muscle movements with an unsteady gait. While walking, they fall commonly.

  • Speech: They have disorganized speech and repeat their words a lot.

  • Sleep: There is disturbed sleep or a sleep disorder.

What Other Conditions Have Similar Symptoms As Dementia?

There are some conditions with similar symptoms commonly misdiagnosed to be dementia. It includes:

  • Depression.

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency.

  • Problems with thyroid.

  • Certain infections like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and neurosyphilis.

  • Use of certain drugs or medications.

How Is Dementia Diagnosed?

Dementia requires a medical diagnosis mainly made through history from the person or the guardian about any of the behavioral changes and other symptoms discussed above.

There are a few laboratory tests or imaging tests that may be required if the doctor wants to rule out the cause, which include:

  • CT (computed Tomography) Scans and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): These scans help to view the detailed brain images and reveal trauma, stroke, bleeding, and fluid accumulation in the brain.

  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography) - It is a special type of imaging scan for the brain that helps rule or cognitive and brain function decline

  • Blood tests to look for any nutritional deficiencies.

  • Psychiatric evaluation.

Can Dementia Be Cured?

Severe dementia has no cure, but in early dementia, some medications and therapies may help manage the symptoms. Certain medications can help manage the symptoms. Such drugs include the following:

  • Donepezil.

  • Galantamine.

  • Rivastigmine.

  • Other severe forms of dementia have no cure.

What Are the Complications of Dementia?

Dementia can affect the different organ systems and can interfere with their functioning. So when dementia is left untreated, it can lead to several complications such as:

  • Inability to perform day-to-day activities.

  • Poor nutritional status.

  • Pneumonia.

  • Personal safety challenges such as driving, walking, or living alone.

  • Death.

Can Dementia Be Prevented?

There is no particular way to prevent dementia, but there are certain ways when followed can help lower the risk of dementia. It includes:

  • Try to keep the mind active by solving puzzles, playing word games, and reading.

  • Keep oneself physically and socially active.

  • Try to quit smoking.

  • Try to get a sufficient amount of vitamins by maintaining a healthy diet.

  • Get quality and sound sleep.

Conclusion

If a person and their loved ones are experiencing the symptoms of dementia, try to seek medical help from a healthcare professional who specializes in this field.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Are the 10 Warning Signs of Dementia?

Warning signs of dementia include -
- Forgetfulness.
- Confusion.
- Inability to recognize common things.
- A decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory loss and mental decline.
- Disorientation.
- Inability to speak or understand a language.
- Anxiety, loneliness, mood swings, or nervousness.
- A feeling of irritability, personality changes, restlessness, lack of restraint or wandering, and getting lost.
- Sleep disorder.
- Depression and hallucinations.

2.

What Age Does Dementia Usually Start?

Dementia is not a disease but is a medical term to describe a group of symptoms associated with memory loss as well as thinking and reasoning skills. The risk of dementia increases with age, especially after age 65. However, it is not a part of aging, and dementia can occur in younger people with a family history. Having a family history of dementia increases the risk of developing the condition.

3.

Do Dementia Patients Sleep a Lot?

People with dementia have a sleeping disorder and disturbed sleep. People with dementia tend to sleep a lot in the later stages of the disorder. It is necessary to maintain the same sleep cycle which was there before dementia.

4.

How Fast Does Dementia Progress?

All types of dementia are progressive. The symptoms get worse with time, usually over several years, and may be relatively mild at first. The person may experience a decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory loss, mental decline, and confusion, especially in the evening hours.

5.

How Long Can Dementia Last?

Patients with dementia can survive from three to seven years after diagnosis. But they can also live as long as twenty years, depending on other factors.

6.

What Is the Best Test to Detect Dementia?

 
Dementia requires a medical diagnosis, mainly made through history from the patient or the guardian, about any of the behavioral changes and other symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the best test to diagnose dementia. Also, a complete diagnosis of the damaged blood vessel that occurs in vascular dementia is required for diagnosis and treatment.

7.

What Is the Three-Word Memory Test?

Dementia can be diagnosed within five minutes with a three-word memory test and a clock-drawing task. The words are apple, penny, and table. A tool called the Mini-Cog is used to screen dementia coupled with a functional activities questionnaire, which helps to classify patients with 83 % accuracy as cognitively normal, mildly cognitively impaired, or demented.

8.

Can You Self-Diagnose Dementia?

The early symptoms of dementia, such as forgetfulness, confusion, and the inability to recognize common things, can help in self-diagnosis. The person may experience a decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory loss, mental decline, and confusion, especially in the evening hours.

9.

What Is the Treatment for Early Signs of Dementia?

Severe dementia has no cure, but in early dementia, some medications and therapies may help manage the symptoms. There are certain medications that can help manage the symptoms. Such drugs include the following:
- Donepezil.
- Galantamine.
- Rivastigmine.
Other severe forms of dementia have no cure.

10.

What Does a Neurologist Do for Dementia?

Dementia can typically occur when there is damage to the connections of the nerve cells to the brain or when there is loss or death of nerve cells. This happens as a result of head injuries, brain tumors, stroke, and other causes. A neurologist records the history from the patient or the guardian about any of the behavioral changes and other symptoms. There are a few laboratory or imaging tests that may be required to rule out the cause. A neurologist can prescribe medications and therapies that may help manage the symptoms. There are certain medications that can be given, including Donepezil, Galantamine, and Rivastigmine.

11.

What Is the Safest Medication for Dementia?

Severe dementia has no cure, but in early dementia, some medications and therapies may help manage the symptoms. There are certain medications that can help manage the symptoms, that include Donepezil, Galantamine, and Rivastigmine.

12.

Can Tablets Stop Dementia?

Medications cannot cure any type of dementia, but they might be able to slow it down and make it easier to live with. Drugs may relieve symptoms related to thinking, memory, language, and other thought processes. Moreover, they may also correct mood, agitation, and other behavioral issues.

13.

How Do You Treat Dementia at Home?

Dementia can be treated at home by following the below-mentioned tips:
- Talk to the person.
- Help them to make their dressing and grooming easier.
- Help the patient memorize things to prevent memory loss.
- Manage their sleep problems.
- Help them keep a record of their medications.
- Encourage activities that are enjoyable and stimulating.

14.

Why Does Dementia Cause Death?

Dementia can typically occur when there is damage to the connections of the nerve cells to the brain or when there is loss or death of nerve cells. This happens as a result of head injuries, brain tumors, stroke, and other causes. Dementia can affect the different organ systems and can interfere with their functioning. So when dementia is left untreated, it can lead to a number of complications such as the inability to perform day-to-day activities, poor nutritional status, pneumonia, personal safety challenges such as driving, walking, or living alone, and death.
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Dr. Agatha Nzou Mwia

General Practitioner

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