Dementia is a word that describes symptoms of impairment in memory, thinking abilities, and communication. The disorder is believed to be mainly caused by Alzheimer’s disease, which results from abnormal changes in the brain promoting a decline in cognitive abilities. Even though the probability of having the disorder progresses with age, it is not a typical sign of getting old. The Alzheimer’s Association approximates that, in 2010, 4.7 million Americans aged 65 years or older were living with Alzheimer’s disease (Fargo and Bleiler 52). Furthermore, the Association asserts that Alzheimer’s disease represents approximately 75% of all dementia cases.
Diagnosing dementia is not an easy task since there is no one test to determine if someone has the disorder. According to Cerqueira-Jaramillo et al., to diagnose dementia, physicians first assess any underlying medical conditions like vitamin deficiency, normal pressure hydrocephalus, or abnormal thyroid function that may be linked to cognitive problems. Additionally, early detection of symptoms of dementia is crucial because some symptoms can be treated. However, the specific type of dementia that a person may have may not be confirmed until the brain is examined after a person dies.
A medical evaluation for dementia entails typically:
- Medical history includes asking questions about a person’s and their family’s medical history. These questions may consist of questions concerning family dementia incidence, when and how symptoms started, behavioral and personality changes, and if the people are on drugs that might worsen the symptoms.
- Physical examination includes measuring blood pressure and other critical signs to assist physicians in detecting conditions that could cause dementia.
- Neurological tests include evaluating reflexes, sensory responses, balance, and other cognitive functions to identify conditions that may impact the diagnosis.
Dementia is a severe condition with a generally poor and varied prognosis at individual levels. According to Cahill, there is currently no known cure for the progressive types of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease (198). However, some drugs may temporarily slow down its progression and improve symptoms. The World Health Organization suggests that mortality risks are generally two times higher than those of non-demented persons. Moreover, it is predicted that the disorder will be among the leading causes of mortality in the future instead of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).
Etiology of Dementia
The causes of dementia may differ, depending on the brain changes types that may be occurring. It is, however, believed that Alzheimer’s disease is the primary cause of dementia in older people. According to the WHO, several factors and disorders contribute to the development of dementia, including neurodegenerative disorders. Consequently, neurodegenerative diseases lead to progressive and irreversible neuron and brain function losses. Furthermore, it is normal for a person to have a mixture of more than one type of dementia, such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. There is no known cure for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and Frontotemporal disorders.
Other conditions that cause symptoms of dementia can be stopped or even reversed with treatment. Normal-pressure hydrocephalus, an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, is customarily resolved with treatment (Cahill 199). Additionally, specific medical problems may lead to severe memory problems resembling dementia, including some medicines side effects, too much alcohol drinking, deficiencies in vitamin 12, emotional problems, delirium, brain infections, head injuries, and liver problems (Fargo and Bleiler 72). Other conditions that may lead to symptoms that look like dementia include HIV, Chronic traumatic disease, Huntington’s disease, and Argyrophilic grain disease.
Although there is no proven way to prevent dementia, researchers are looking for ways to make it less likely. Some of the ways that can help in the prevention of dementia include (Fargo and Bleiler 78):
- Avoid using drugs from the street without a physician’s prescription.
- Moderate consumption of alcohol.
- Make efforts to socialize and develop the social skills
- Make ongoing efforts to develop and maintain friendships with other people.
Additionally, it is vital to monitor the medication dosage and encourage the patient to continue the medication prescribed by the physician.
Dementia is caused by neurodegeneration, and degeneration dementia has no known cure since brain cell death is irreversible. However, managing disorders like Alzheimer’s disease is dedicated to treating symptoms and offering care rather than underlying causes (Fargo and Bleiler 68). Nonetheless, if the dementia symptoms result from a non-degenerative or reversible cause, treatment can avert or stop further damage of brain tissues. Examples of non-degenerative or reversible symptoms include vitamin deficiency, effects of medication, and injury.
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms can be minimized by some medicines such as cholinesterase inhibitors. Generally, there are four types of cholinesterase inhibitors approved by the US, including tacrine, rivastigmine, galantamine, and donepezil.
Several complementary therapies have proven beneficial in the management of dementia:
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ETC)
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
Symptoms of dementia
Dementia can be characterized by significant variations in symptoms depending on the disorder’s impact and the person’s personality before being infected. The symptoms and signs of dementia are categorized into three stages (WHO n.a):
- Early-stage; is generally disregarded since it is a slow process, and the common symptom includes poor memory.
- The middle stage; is when the signs and symptoms get more restricting and more precise, including getting lost at home, becoming forgetful, increased communication difficulties, and needing assistance with personal healthcare.
- Late-stage; is one of near-total inactivity and dependency. Symptoms in this stage include difficulty in walking, becoming unaware of places and time, difficulty in recognizing people, behavioral changes such as aggression, and others.
Cahill, Suzanne. “WHO’s global action plan on the public health response to dementia: some challenges and opportunities.” 2020, pp. 197-199.
Cerqueira-Jaramillo, María Alejandra, et al. “Visual features in Alzheimer’s disease: From basic mechanisms to clinical overview.” Neural plasticity (2018).
Fargo, K., and Bleiler, L. Alzheimer’s association report. Alzheimer’s Dement, vol. 10, 2014, pp. 47–92.
World Health Organization. Dementia. 2020, Web.