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Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. It isn't a specific disease, but several different diseases may cause dementia.
Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. Having memory loss alone doesn't mean you have dementia.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults, but there are a number of causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms may be reversible.
The information on this page is sourced from The Mayo Clinic.
Source: GARD Last updated on 05-01-20
Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause, but common signs and symptoms include:
See a doctor if you or a loved one has memory problems or other dementia symptoms. Some treatable medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms, so it's important to determine the underlying cause.
Last updated on 05-01-20
Dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that's affected by the damage, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms.
Dementias are often grouped by what they have in common, such as the protein or proteins deposited in the brain or the part of the brain that's affected. Some diseases look like dementias, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or vitamin deficiencies, and they might improve with treatment.
Types of dementias that progress and aren't reversible include:
Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.
Although not all causes of Alzheimer's disease are known, experts do know that a small percentage are related to mutations of three genes, which can be passed down from parent to child. While several different genes are probably involved in Alzheimer's disease, one important gene that increases risk is apolipoprotein E4 (APOE).
Alzheimer's disease patients have plaques and tangles in their brains. Plaques are clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid, and tangles are fibrous tangles made up of tau protein. It's thought that these clumps damage healthy neurons and the fibers connecting them.
Other genetic factors might make it more likely that people will develop Alzheimer's.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI). This condition is most often caused by repetitive head trauma. People such as boxers, football players or soldiers might experience TBI.
Depending on the part of the brain that's injured, this condition can cause dementia signs and symptoms such as depression, explosiveness, memory loss and impaired speech. TBI may also cause parkinsonism. Symptoms might not appear until years after the trauma.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This rare brain disorder usually occurs in people without known risk factors. This condition might be due to deposits of infectious proteins called prions. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease usually has no known cause but can be inherited. It may also be caused by exposure to diseased brain or nervous system tissue, such as from a cornea transplant.
Signs and symptoms of this fatal condition usually appear after age 60.
Some causes of dementia or dementia-like symptoms can be reversed with treatment. They include:
Many factors can eventually contribute to dementia. Some factors, such as age, can't be changed. Others can be addressed to reduce your risk.
You might be able to control the following risk factors for dementia.
Dementia can affect many body systems and, therefore, the ability to function. Dementia can lead to:
There's no sure way to prevent dementia, but there are steps you can take that might help. More research is needed, but it might be beneficial to do the following:
Get enough vitamins. Some research suggests that people with low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. You can get vitamin D through certain foods, supplements and sun exposure.
More study is needed before an increase in vitamin D intake is recommended for preventing dementia, but it's a good idea to make sure you get adequate vitamin D. Taking a daily B-complex vitamin and vitamin C may also be helpful.
Last updated on 05-01-20
Diagnosing dementia and its type can be challenging. People have dementia when they have cognitive impairment and lose their ability to perform daily functions, such as taking their medication, paying bills and driving safely.
To diagnose the cause of the dementia, the doctor must recognize the pattern of the loss of skills and function and determine what a person is still able to do. More recently, biomarkers have become available to make a more accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical examination. He or she will likely ask someone close to you about your symptoms as well.
No single test can diagnose dementia, so doctors are likely to run a number of tests that can help pinpoint the problem.
Doctors will evaluate your thinking (cognitive) function. A number of tests measure thinking skills, such as memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills, and attention.
Doctors evaluate your memory, language, visual perception, attention, problem-solving, movement, senses, balance, reflexes and other areas.
Simple blood tests can detect physical problems that can affect brain function, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland. Sometimes the spinal fluid is examined for infection, inflammation or markers of some degenerative diseases.
A mental health professional can determine whether depression or another mental health condition is contributing to your symptoms.
Last updated on 05-01-20
Most types of dementia can't be cured, but there are ways to manage your symptoms.
The following are used to temporarily improve dementia symptoms.
Cholinesterase inhibitors. These medications — including donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Razadyne) — work by boosting levels of a chemical messenger involved in memory and judgment.
Although primarily used to treat Alzheimer's disease, these medications might also be prescribed for other dementias, including vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease dementia and Lewy body dementia.
Side effects can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other possible side effects include slowed heart rate, fainting and sleep disturbances.
Memantine. Memantine (Namenda) works by regulating the activity of glutamate, another chemical messenger involved in brain functions, such as learning and memory. In some cases, memantine is prescribed with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
A common side effect of memantine is dizziness.
Several dementia symptoms and behavior problems might be treated initially using nondrug approaches, such as:
Dementia symptoms and behavior problems will progress over time. Caregivers might try the following suggestions:
Encourage exercise. The main benefits of exercise in people with dementia include improved strength, balance and cardiovascular health. Exercise may also be helpful in managing symptoms such as restlessness. There is growing evidence that exercise also protects the brain from dementia, especially when combined with a healthy diet and treatment for risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Some research also shows that physical activity might slow the progression of impaired thinking in people with Alzheimer's disease, and it can lessen symptoms of depression.
Establish a nighttime ritual. Behavior is often worse at night. Try to establish going-to-bed rituals that are calming and away from the noise of television, meal cleanup and active family members. Leave night lights on in the bedroom, hall and bathroom to prevent disorientation.
Limiting caffeine, discouraging napping and offering opportunities for exercise during the day might ease nighttime restlessness.
Plan for the future. Develop a plan with your loved one while he or she is able to participate that identifies goals for future care. Support groups, legal advisers, family members and others might be able to help.
You'll need to consider financial and legal issues, safety and daily living concerns, and long-term care options.
Several dietary supplements, herbal remedies and therapies have been studied for people with dementia. But at this time there is no convincing evidence for any of these.
Use caution when considering taking dietary supplements, vitamins or herbal remedies, especially if you're taking other medications. These remedies aren't regulated, and claims about their benefits aren't always based on scientific research.
While some studies suggest that vitamin E supplements may be helpful for Alzheimer's disease, the evidence is not convincing and large doses may pose risks. Vitamin E supplementation is not currently recommended, but including vitamin E in the diet through foods such as nuts is suggested to promote brain health.
The following techniques may help reduce agitation and promote relaxation in people with dementia.
Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating. Many details need to be considered to ensure that you and those around you are as prepared as possible for dealing with a condition that's unpredictable and progressive.
Here are some suggestions you can try to help yourself cope with the disease:
You can help a person cope with the disease by listening, reassuring the person that he or she still can enjoy life, being supportive and positive, and doing your best to help the person retain dignity and self-respect.
Providing care for someone with dementia is physically and emotionally demanding. Feelings of anger and guilt, frustration and discouragement, worry, grief, and social isolation are common. If you're a caregiver for someone with dementia:
Last updated on 05-01-20
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