What is dementia?
Getting older and forgetfulness often go hand in hand. Many people experience slight memory loss that does not necessarily impact their daily activities and lives as they age. However, progressive memory loss may mean that someone has dementia.
The dictionary describes dementia as a persistent or chronic condition that consists of mental processes that are the result of a brain injury or disease and is defined by mental disorders, impaired reasoning and personality changes.
Dementia, pronounced dih-men-shuh, is not a specific condition or a disease.
It describes a collective group of symptoms that affect the patient’s memory, social skills, thinking (cognitive abilities) and their daily functioning. It is important to note that although dementia is typically defined by memory loss, the loss of one’s memory can have a number of different causes.
Dementia may be the result of several injuries or illnesses. The patient’s mental impairment normally ranges between mild and severe. Dementia can also result in changes in the person’s memory. Some forms of dementia are progressive, meaning they worsen over time. There are types of dementia that can be treated and possibly even reversed. Some experts restrict the use of ‘dementia’ as a term to denote mental deterioration that is irreversible.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. If you or a loved one of yours is experiencing progressive memory loss, then it is advised that you consult with your doctor in order to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment if needed. In a variety of cases, those experiencing memory loss have nothing to worry about.
The following article explores dementia, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and any other questions you may have. Please be advised that this article is written as a guideline for informational purposes only. If a professional opinion is what you are looking for, then consult with your doctor. At the end of this article, you should have a thorough understanding of the condition and how to deal with it.
What are the early signs of dementia?
Whether you or a loved one are showing signs of memory and cognitive issues, it is important not to immediately determine the diagnosis to be that of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In order to receive a diagnosis of dementia, the person concerned will need to have at least two different types of mental impairments that are significantly impacting their everyday activities and life.
In addition to memory issues, the patient may also experience issues in:
The below symptoms can be considered the initial symptoms of dementia:
Subtle memory changes that are short-term
Issues with memory are considered to be the hallmark symptom of dementia. These changes in one’s memory are often subtle initially and tend to only involve short-term memory issues.
An example of a short-term memory issue is forgetting where one places everyday items such as keys, a wallet or other belongings. Someone who is affected may be able to recall events and memories that happened a number of years ago, but not be able to remember what they had for lunch.
It is important to note that forgetting things like where you put your keys every now and again is not cause for concern and people of all ages may become forgetful during times of stress, anxiety or even simply when they are busier than usual in their daily lives. It is when forgetfulness becomes chronic or unusual, affecting one’s daily life on a longer-term basis, that it may be cause for concern.
Difficulty in finding the right words in conversation
Struggling to communicate feelings and thoughts is another early symptom of dementia. If someone has dementia they often find it difficult to explain something or find the right words in order to express what they are trying to say. When communicating with someone who has dementia, the conversation may take longer than an average one or take longer to conclude and understand.
Changes in mood or personality
Noticeable changes in someone’s mood on a regular basis is also common in dementia. If you are the one suffering from dementia, these mood changes may be difficult to notice at first, however friends and loved ones will often recognise these changes before you do. Depression is known to be a typical sign of early dementia.
A shift in one’s personality is also another early sign of dementia, along with mood changes. A change in one’s personality may be shifting from being someone who is shy to someone who is outgoing or vice versa. This is due to the condition being one that often impacts one’s judgment
Apathy is defined as the suppression or absence of emotion, passion or excitement. A lack of interest in things that were previously met with enthusiasm and excitement is a common sign of early dementia. Someone with dementia may not want to go out in public or partake in any fun activities. Apathy is also tied to depression as the patient may appear to be emotionally flat and not want to spend time with family or friends.
Difficulty in completing everyday tasks
Often in early dementia, the person may experience a subtle shift in their ability to finish everyday tasks. This will typically start with a struggle when completing more complex tasks such as balancing a chequebook, doing taxes or playing a game with complex rules.
Apart from finding it hard to complete tasks that are normally seen as easy or familiar, the person may also strain themselves when learning something new or when trying to follow a new routine.
Confusion is a typical sign of the onset of early dementia. When memory, judgement or thinking begins to lapse, the person may be confused as they can no longer recognise or recall faces, find the words to express themselves or interact normally.
There are a number of reasons that confusion occurs in different situations. Misplacing car keys, forgetting what they had to do in the day or difficulty in remembering someone they have previously met, are some examples of everyday confusion associated with dementia.
Difficulty when following conversation or storylines
This is a classic sign of early dementia. Forgetting the meaning of words or following a storyline of a movie on TV or a conversation are something people with dementia tend to battle with.
Difficulty in spatial orientation
Someone with early dementia will start to show signs of a deteriorating sense of direction as their spatial orientation will begin to deteriorate as dementia progresses. This can also mean not being able to recognise landmarks that were once-familiar or losing their sense of direction when driving or walking to destinations they once found with ease. It can also become hard for them to follow step by step instructions such as those of a recipe.
Acting in repetitive ways
Repetition is a common sign of dementia as it is associated with general behavioural changes and memory loss. Daily tasks are often repeated, for example, the person may shave twice or even obsessively collect items. They may even repeat questions they have asked that have already been answered.
Finding it hard to adapt to any changes
Fear is a common symptom in the early onset of dementia. In not being able to remember people or follow conversations, or getting lost on their way home from the store sufferers may experience symptoms of fear and confusion. Because of this, it may result in a craving for routine and being afraid to try new things.
What are the follow-on symptoms of dementia?
In the section above we discussed the early signs of dementia, the follow-on symptoms from these can, in some cases, be described as the progression of the initial symptoms. For example, a patient may have started with forgetting the face of someone they met recently, this can then lead to them forgetting the faces of loved ones they have known and loved for a number of years.
It is important to note that the symptoms of dementia are dependent on the cause. However, the symptoms can be divided into cognitive and psychological changes as stated below:
Cognitive changes - mental processes of knowing and perceiving:
- Difficulty when communicating or finding it hard to find the right words
- Difficulty in completing complex tasks
- Difficulty in problem-solving or reasoning
- Difficulty with motor functions or coordination
- Issues with memory loss which is typically noticed by a friend or loved one initially
- Difficulty in organising or planning
- Disorientation and confusion
Psychological changes – awareness, motivation and feeling:
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate behaviour
When to see a doctor
If you or a loved one is showing signs of dementia, then it is advised that you consult with a doctor or mental health professional. It is vital to determine the underlying cause of the symptoms as some medications can cause symptoms of dementia.
What are the types and stages of dementia?
Types of dementia
The types of dementia are divided into several classifications of the condition. Dementia is classified by the following criteria:
- Area of the brain affected
- If the condition is progressive
- If the dementia is the result of another disorder (primary and secondary)
The diseases mentioned in the types of dementia below are further explained later on in the article.
The types of dementia are as follows:
These types of dementias occur due to issues with the cerebral cortex, this is known as the brain’s outer layer. The cortex plays a vital role in language and memory. Those with cortical dementias will typically experience severe memory issues and loss and struggle to remember words and find it difficult to understand language. Alzheimer’s disease (an irreversible brain disorder) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob (a rare and degenerative brain disorder that leads to dementia and can be fatal in some cases) are two different types of cortical dementia.
These types of dementias occur due to an issue with the area of the brain that is situated below the cortex. Subcortical dementias tend to affect one’s ability to think quickly and start activities. Issues with language and forgetfulness are not normally experienced in those with this type of dementia. Huntington’s disease (which leads to the degeneration of nerve cells), HIV (which interferes with the immune system) and Parkinson’s disease (a disorder of the central nervous system) have been known to cause subcortical dementias.
These types of dementias will get worse over time and the patients tend to eventually lose more and more of their abilities to function. Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia (brain damage caused by strokes), frontotemporal dementia (a group of conditions that result in the progressive damage of the brain) and Lewy body dementia are types of dementia that are progressive.
Patients with primary dementia will only show the dementia symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 70 percent of primary dementia cases as it is a form of this kind of dementia.
These types of dementia develop as peripheral conditions to an already existing condition or illness. Multiple sclerosis (disease of the central nervous system), brain infections and progressive supranuclear palsy (which affects movement and speech) are examples of certain conditions that can result in secondary dementias developing.
Stages of dementia
The dementia stages are grouped into categories of mild, moderate and severe. It is possible for patients to be categorised into two different stages at one time, this is, however, dependent on their symptoms. It is not possible to use the stages of dementia to predict how a patient’s symptoms will progress. Every person will experience dementia differently, their experience is dependent on the cause of their dementia.
Doctors will normally determine the stage of the patient’s dementia through asking several questions to the caregiver or if able, the patient. A screening tool known as the Mini-Mental Stage Examination is used to determine the cognitive decline on a scale of zero to 30. Diagnosing the stage of dementia may aid in the doctor creating a plan of treatment.
The person is able to function on their own and there are no signs that are obvious at this point.
Very Mild Impairment
Forgetfulness that is often associated with ageing is evident at this stage. However, any other symptoms are not yet obvious.
In this stage, the person is still able to complete daily tasks and go about their daily routines. Symptoms that become evident in this stage are:
- Losing items
- Memory loss
- Confusion when driving
- Loss of concentration
- Issues when managing medications
Issues with performing everyday tasks are evident here. Kinds of symptoms that become present are:
- Difficulty holding in urine (i.e. bladder control)
- Social withdrawal is increased
- Difficulty in using or finding the right words
- Difficulty in completing mental mathematic problems
- Increased forgetfulness and memory loss
Moderately Severe Impairment
At this stage, the patient may begin to need daily assistance when completing tasks. Symptoms of this stage are the following:
- Confusion when driving and following directions
- Memory loss is increasing
- Issues when completing less challenging problem solving
- Needing assistance in picking an appropriate wardrobe for the day or special events
At this stage, the patient will need even more assistance when completing daily tasks and following a routine. Symptoms of this stage include the following:
- Battling to sleep
- Personality changes – including hallucinations or paranoia
- Needing help in going to the toilet
- Being unable to remember the names of caregivers, friends or loves ones
- Getting lost easily
- Battling to drive
- Needing help in getting dressed
Very Severe Impairment
It is at this stage that the patient will need 24/7 care from either a loved one or a caregiver. Symptoms of this stage have been known to include the following:
- Losing the ability to communicate effectively
- Losing spatial awareness
- Needing assistance when eating
- Being unable to control bladder and bowel movements
- Losing muscle control in walking, facial expressions, sitting or even swallowing
What causes dementia?
Dementia is a neurodegenerative condition that describes the damage of the nerve cells of the brain, this can occur in a number of areas in the brain.
The condition affects people in different ways and each case is unique. The symptoms are dependent on the area of the brain that is affected.
‘Neurodegenerative’ refers to the gradual decline in the functioning of the nerve cells in the brain, also known as neurons, meaning that the neurons will gradually stop functioning correctly and perish. This results in an impact on the connections between the neurons, known as synapses, which refers to the communication of messages in the brain telling the body how to function. This disconnect often results in a number of dysfunctions.
There are a number of different types of dementia, the types are grouped by their similarities, such as their progressive traits or the part of the brain impacted. There are some dementias, for example, those that have been caused by an onset reaction to vitamin deficiencies or medications, these types are sometimes reversible and able to improve through treatment. Note that dementia is reversible in cases where the cause is alcohol, drugs, hormonal, medication or even depression. However, the condition is irreversible when the cause is that of trauma or a degenerative disease.
There are certain dementia types that are not reversible and progress over time, these include:
- Alzheimer’s disease – Alzheimer’s disease is known to be the most prevalent cause of dementia in those who are 65 years old or older. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, however, those who are diagnosed with the condition, have tangles and plaques found in their brain. These are accumulations of abnormal proteins known as amyloid plaques. These fibrous tangles are made of abnormal tau proteins which cause microtubules, that facilitate the transport of vital chemicals and nutrients in the brain, to collapse, leading to damage of the nerve cells. Alzheimer’s usually occurs in patients over 65 years old, although some cases may even develop in patients who are just 40 or 50 years old. The condition is also known as Alzheimer’s dementia.
- Vascular dementia – The second most well known cause or type of dementia is vascular dementia. It is the result of blood vessels supplying blood to the brain being damaged. Issues with the blood vessels can be the result of conditions regarding the blood vessels such as a stroke. Vascular dementia is often the case when a person has multiple strokes that go unnoticed as they do not show the typical symptoms of visions loss, numbness or weakness associated with a stroke. Patients who have heart disease or hypertension that is not treated, have a higher risk of vascular dementia developing.
- Lewy body dementia – Clumps of specific proteins in the brain that are abnormal are known as Lewy bodies, these are found in those who suffer from Lewy body dementia. These proteins accumulate inside the neurons in the brain. Memory issues and forgetfulness are signs of cognitive decline, these are some of the key features associated with this condition. Patients may also have prominent hallucinations, these hallucinations will seem very realistic to the person experiencing them. Some cases amongst those who suffer from Lewy body disease may also develop symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, these symptoms will be slowness or tremors. Lewy body disease is a common form of progressive dementia.
- Frontotemporal dementia – There is a certain group of degenerative diseases that break down the nerve cells found in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, these areas are associated with the patient’s behaviour, personality and their language. Frontotemporal dementia is generally associated with shrinkage or pronounced atrophy of these lobes. These patients will experience forgetfulness as well as changes in their personality, poor judgment and even impulsivity. Some people with this form of dementia may even suffer from stiffness in their muscles or develop incoordination. The cause of frontotemporal dementia is still unknown.
- Mixed dementia - Autopsies done on the brains of those who are 80 years old or older, who suffer from dementia, show that many of these people had Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia combined. There are still ongoing studies being conducted to figure out how suffering from mixed dementia affects the treatment and symptoms.
Other disorders that have been linked to dementia
- Huntington's disease – This is a condition that is the result of a genetic mutation and causes specific nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain to progressively degenerate. The symptoms and signs of Huntington’s disease include a severe decline in the patient’s cognitive abilities, these symptoms typically show up around the ages of 30 and 40 years old.
- Traumatic injury to the brain – This is a condition that is the result of head traumas that are repetitive, these are normally experienced by football players, soldiers and boxers. The signs of dementia are dependent on the area of the brain that has been injured. Depression, memory loss, explosiveness, tremors, slow movement, and even rigidity (parkinsonism) have been known to develop. Symptoms may only appear years after the incident or brain injury.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – A rare brain disorder, it typically develops in those who do not have any risk factors that are known to be present. This disease may be the result of abnormal forms of protein within the brain or it can be inherited. This is a fatal condition and the symptoms and signs tend to appear when the patient is about 60 years old. The abnormal protein results in the destruction of the brain cells as well as dementia. Most of the cases appear without an exact cause. In very rare cases, the patient may have been exposed to an abnormal protein such as prions found in Mad cow disease – this is an exposure that is external. This disease normally progresses rapidly over a couple of years and tends to be associated with muscle movements that are abnormal.
- Parkinson's disease – A lot of patients who suffer from this disease have been known to develop the symptoms of dementia, this is known as Parkinson's disease dementia. Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disorder which affects the movement of the patient and often includes tremors.
Conditions that are similar to dementia that are able to be reversed
Some of the causes of symptoms that are similar to those of dementia and that are able to be reversed with treatment include:
- Immune disorders and infections – Symptoms that are dementia-like may be a result of fever as well as other side effects of the body attempting to fight off possible infection. Multiple sclerosis is an example of a condition that results from the immune system attacking the nerve cells, the immune system basically eats away the protective nerve covering, this attack of the nerve cells is able to cause dementia.
- Nutritional deficiencies – Being dehydrated in not drinking enough liquids, or not getting enough of the vitamins B-1, B-6 and B-12, are issues that are often experienced by those who have an addiction to alcohol, and as a result, may develop symptoms that are similar to dementia.
- Subdural hematomas – These occur if there is bleeding between the covering of the brain and the surface of the brain, which is common when an elderly person falls, this can lead to symptoms similar to those of dementia.
- Endocrine abnormalities and metabolic issues – People who suffer from issues with their thyroid, have low blood sugar, which is known as hypoglycaemia, have too much or too little calcium or sodium, or struggle to absorb the vitamin B-12, can often develop symptoms that are similar to those of dementia, along with changes to their personality.
- Reactions to medications – Medication that causes a reaction or the interaction of several medications, may often result in symptoms of dementia.
- Poisoning – Being exposed to lead, pesticides, and other heavy metals and poisons, as well as the abuse of recreational drugs and alcohol, can often result in dementia-like symptoms.
- Brain tumours – In rare cases, dementia may be a result of damage from a brain tumour.
- Anoxia – This is a condition, which is also known as hypoxia, that occurs due to the organ tissues not receiving enough oxygen. Anoxia can be a result of severe asthma, carbon monoxide poisoning, heart attack or other causes.
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus – Also known as NPH, this is an accumulation of the cerebrospinal fluid, also known as CSF, which causes the enlargement of the ventricles in the brain that may cause walking issues, memory loss and urinary difficulties.
What are the complications of dementia?
Dementia is also known to impact a variety of systems in the body, which impacts the patient’s ability to function normally. Dementia can, therefore, lead to:
- Inadequate nutrition – A number of people with dementia will eventually reduce and stop their nutrient intake. They may even struggle to chew and swallow their food.
- Pneumonia – Finding it hard to swallow will increase the patient’s risk of aspirating food into the lungs as well as choking. When food goes into the lungs, this can block their breathing ability and can result in pneumonia.
- Inability to perform self-care tasks – Dementia, being a progressive condition, can interfere with dressing, bathing, brushing teeth or hair as well as using the bathroom and toilet independently, it can also impact the patient’s ability to take daily medications.
- Personal safety challenges – There are a number of daily situations that may present issues of safety for those with dementia, these include cooking, driving or even walking alone. This is due to issues with directions and memory.
- Death – Dementia in the later stages may result in the patient going into a coma or dying, this is often due to secondary diseases and infection.
What are the risk factors for dementia?
There are a number of factors that may lead to dementia eventually. Some factors, like ageing, cannot be stopped. However, there are several factors that are able to be addressed to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
The following are risk factors that are unable to be avoided or changed:
- Ageing – As someone ages, their risk of developing dementia is increased. Those over 65 are more susceptible to the condition. It is important to know that dementia should not be seen as a normal development of ageing, dementia can also occur in younger people.
- Having a family history of dementia – When someone has a family history of the condition, their risk of developing dementia is increased. However, there are a number of people who have a family history and do not develop symptoms, and many people who do not have a family history of the condition and do develop it. There are tests available to determine whether you have a certain genetic mutation pertaining to dementia.
- Having down syndrome – People who suffer from down syndrome, when middle-aged, may develop the early-onset of the most common form of dementia, being Alzheimer’s disease.
- Suffering from mild-cognitive impairment – This condition involves having memory issues but not losing any daily functioning abilities. However, these memory issues give people a higher risk of dementia.
The following are risk factors that can be changed or controlled:
- Using drugs and alcohol – Drinking large amounts of alcohol may put one at a higher risk of developing dementia, as well as the heavy intake of recreational drugs.
- Suffering from cardiovascular issues – Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol or atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of fats in the walls of the arteries, can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle and medication.
- Suffering from depression – Depression experienced later on in life may indicate that dementia is developing. However, more research is needed to be done on this theory.
- Having diabetes – If someone is diabetic, and they do not control the condition or treat it, their risk of developing dementia is heightened.
- Smoking – If someone is a smoker, their risk of developing vascular diseases (blood vessel diseases), as well as dementia, is increased.
- Having sleep apnoea – Those who snore suffer from episodes of their breathing stopping frequently, this may have effects on memory loss that is reversible.
How is dementia diagnosed?
It can be challenging to determine what type of dementia the patient is experiencing. Many of the symptoms of dementia are similar and the types are loosely grouped. For someone to be diagnosed with dementia, they need to have at least two of their mental functions impaired to such a point that their daily life is impacted in some way. Bear in mind, these are two of the core functions of their brain such as issues with memory, skills, ability to pay attention and focus, language, problem-solving and their visual perception.
The doctor will typically begin with a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms, followed by a physical examination. The patient or caregiver will also be asked questions about the symptoms present.
There is not a single test used to diagnose dementia. Therefore, doctors will likely run a number of examinations and tests in order to accurately diagnose the patient.
Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
This involves evaluating the patient’s thinking (cognitive) abilities. There are several tests that can be used to measure the patient’s thinking skills such as orientation, memory, judgment and reasoning, attention and language skills. These tests are normally performance based assessments and evaluations through written or oral tests between a mental health professional and patient.
This involves the doctor evaluating the patient’s memory, visual perception, attention, balance, movement, senses and reflexes through a variety of tests.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans – These are used to see if there is evidence of a tumour, stroke or bleeding in the brain.
- PET (positron emission tomography) scans – These allow the doctor to see the patterns of the brain activity and detect the hallmark factor of Alzheimer’s disease, being the amyloid protein present in the brain.
These include conducting blood tests (the doctor will take a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory for testing), which can detect is there are any physical issues that may be affecting the functioning of the brain. Such as a deficiency of vitamin B-12, or a thyroid gland that is not working properly. In some cases, spinal fluid can also be examined to detect infection, markers of degenerative diseases or inflammation.
A psychiatric evaluation is conducted by a mental healthcare professional, this can determine if a mental health condition such as depression is causing the symptoms or contributing to them.
How is dementia treated?
Most of the types of dementia cannot be cured, however, there are a number of ways to manage the symptoms of the condition:
The below medications can be used to temporarily improve the symptoms of dementia:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors – These include rivastigmine (Exelon), donepezil (Aricept) and galantamine (Razadyne). These medications work through boosting the judgment and memory of the patient.
- These medications are used to primarily treat Alzheimer’s disease, however, they are often used for other types of dementias including Parkinson’s disease dementia, vascular dementia, as well as Lewy body dementia. The common side effects are normally diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
- Memantine (Namenda) – This type of medication works through regulating glutamate activity, glutamate is a chemical messenger in the brain involved in the functioning of the brain such as memory and learning. In some cases, this medication will be prescribed with a cholinesterase inhibitor. The common side effect of this drug is dizziness.
- Combination drugs – doctors may also use a drug known as Namzaric, this is a combination of both the cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. This drug helps in slowing down the progression of memory loss.
- Other medications – The doctor may also prescribe medications that are used to treat other conditions or symptoms such as agitation, sleep apnoea or depression.
A number of the symptoms of dementia as well as behavioural issues may be treated through nondrug approaches initially. These include:
- Occupational therapy – A role of an occupational therapist may be to show the caregiver or loved one how to make a home that is more accommodating for the patient and also teach the patient and those involved on how to cope with certain behaviours associated with dementia. This can help everyone prepare for the condition should it progress and prevent accidents from occurring such as falls or too much confusion being experienced by the patient in their home.
- Altering the environment –Reducing the noise and clutter in a home can allow for the environment to be that of an accommodating one and allows for the patient suffering from dementia to be able to function and focus better in their home. Hiding dangerous items such as knives and creating places for everyday items such as keys and medications can make it easier. Systems to monitor the patient can also be installed so as to keep track of the patient should they wander or get lost.
- Modifying tasks – Breaking tasks into smaller and easier steps helps the patient to focus on their success and not their failure. Creating and implementing a routine and structure can also help prevent or reduce confusion associated with those suffering from dementia.
There are a number of dietary supplements, therapies and herbal remedies that have been researched and studies for those suffering from dementia. There is still much research needed in order to supply concrete evidence, however, some of these alternate treatment methods have been seen to have beneficial properties.
It is advised that one should always use caution when taking any dietary supplements, herbal remedies or medications. It is best that you speak to your doctor first if you are thinking about taking or administering any medications to someone with dementia. There are several alternate medications that have been studied and have been said to be effective, these include:
- Vitamin E – The evidence regarding those who have taken vitamin E to treat dementia is yet to be proven, however, it is thought to have positive results. Doctors advise against the intake of large doses of the vitamin as this can result in issues in those who suffer from a heart disease.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Some evidence has been found to support the fact that eating fish and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may lower one’s risk of developing dementia. However, there are also clinical studies that have been conducted to show that these supplements do not significantly reduce the cognitive decline in those who suffer from dementia.
- Ginkgo – This is a herbal medication that is believed to have strong antioxidant properties.
The below techniques have been found to possibly reduce agitation in those with dementia and even promote relaxation in patients:
- Massage therapy
- Music therapy – Listening to soft and soothing music
- Pet therapy – Visiting, petting and playing with dogs has been said to improve the behaviours and moods of those with dementia.
- Art therapy – This involves expressing oneself through art
- Aromatherapy – This uses fragrant plant oils
Continuous research that is being done on dementia
There is ongoing research being done on dementia, with the focus on new treatments being used to slow down the progression of the patient’s cognitive dysfunction. There is also research that focuses on decreasing the damage to the brain and progression of dementia due to the presence of abnormal proteins, known as the tau and beta amyloid proteins. As well as this, researchers are still trying to find and identify what genes are responsible for or contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and in doing so, develop certain drugs that are made to modify these specific genes.
Identifying the treatments and causes responsible for the inflammation of the brain is another area of research being conducted. Research regarding the use of insulin and the brain cells may, in turn, lead to innovative treatments for dementia.
Some more questions you may have regarding dementia
Is forgetfulness to be expected with ageing?
Everybody forgets things every now and then, and this is completely normal. If you suffer from occasional memory loss, it is normally nothing to worry about. However, there is a difference between severe forgetfulness that affects your daily functioning and occasional forgetfulness. The following may be a cause for concern:
- Forgetting how to complete daily tasks like finding your home or phoning someone
- Forgetting who a loved one is
- Not being able to retain information that is clear or follow a conversation easily
- Getting lost in familiar places such as the supermarket or driving to the shops
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above, then it is best to consult with your doctor.
What is the prognosis and life expectancy for someone with dementia?
The cause of death in patients with dementia is most commonly infections due to the lack of mobility. Bladder infections, pneumonia, bedsores and a number of other infections may lead to infections that are wide-spread and in turn, fatal.
The life expectancy of someone with dementia is different from case to case, it is dependent on the cause of the dementia. The life-expectancy may range from as little as one to two years, or to more than 15 or 20 years. However, the average life-expectancy of someone who is diagnosed with dementia is between four and eight years after diagnosis. It is best to consult with your doctor and see what can be done to prolong this.
How does one cope with being the caretaker of someone with dementia?
A stable network of support is vital for someone who is the primary caregiver to a loved one or patient with dementia. During the early stages of the condition, the caregiver will function as a guide or a helper in assisting with daily tasks such as finding or remembering things. As the condition progresses, the assistance may progress to helping the patient in dressing, bathing and using the toilet. Sometimes, if the caregiver is a loved one and not a trained professional, it may be best to find someone who is trained to deal with dementia to help.
There are also a number of community support groups that the caregiver or caregiver and patient can attend. These groups help members to hear other people’s stories, develop coping techniques and provide other means of mental and emotional support.
Can children have dementia?
Many people do not know this, but dementia can also occur in children. There are some rare conditions that can cause the symptoms of dementia in paediatric cases. These include:
- Lafora body disease -This disease causes seizures, movement issues and rapidly progressive dementia.
- Niemann-Pick disease – This disease is inherited and is a result of certain gene mutations. It causes issues with metabolising cholesterol and some other lipids, this leads to a large amount of lipids accumulating in the brain.
- Batten disease – This is a disorder of the central nervous system that is also inherited. It will result in mental impairment, progressive loss of vision, motor skills and seizures.
- Certain kinds of poisonings (including lead poisoning)
- Brain injury
Is dementia hereditary?
Genes do have a role to play in dementia developing. However, the patterns of hereditary factors vary. Alzheimer’s, in some cases, may begin early and occur in some families. This is referred to as early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. There has been research done that has found a mutation in the genes on the chromosomes 1, 14 and 21 that may have something to do with the development of dementia.
Should someone with dementia be driving?
It is vital to assess the driving skills of someone with dementia if there is any concern regarding their ability to drive safely. A patient who drives with dementia can pose a risk to both themselves and their passengers, as well as other people on the road. This is due to the patient having slower reactions, getting easily lost or confused.
Can dementia be cured?
The treatment for dementia is dependent on the cause of the condition. In severe and progressive dementias, there are no cures available and treatment cannot slow down or stop the progression. However, there are certain medications and treatment therapies that have been known to improve the symptoms temporarily.