Guest Author - Karen Huber
Dementia is a loss of brain function that is degenerative. Common types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, abnormal protein structures in the brain; vascular dementia, caused by small strokes; and Alzheimer's, caused by abnormal brain activity. People with Alzheimer's have significant tangling of neurons and fibers in the brain. Diseases and infections can also lead to dementia. Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Pick's disease and conditions such as AIDS, Lyme disease, brain tumors, hydrocephalus, and severe alcoholism are examples. Dementia usually occurs in people over 60; although, milder symptoms may occur before this.
Over time, the brain begins to lose a few cells at a time because the body make fewer brain chemicals. The brain begins to store information differently. Short-and long-term memories usually stay intact, but very recent memories may be sightly slower. Forget names or where you put something very recently are normal changes of aging.
Dementia usually first appears as forgetfulness, or mild cognitive impairment, and sometimes, the symptoms do not interfere with everyday living. Dementia can affect mental functions in language, memory, perception, emotions, and cognition. Mild cognitive impairment can include forgetfulness and difficulty solving problems. Early symptoms of dementia can include trouble remembering names of things, getting lost, losing things, personality changes, depression, and difficulty performing common tasks. Moderate dementia symptoms may include sleep problems, inability to remember dates and people, forgetfulness of past events, loss of judgment, withdrawal, hallucinations and violent behavior, and inability to take physical of oneself. In addition to the above symptoms, people with severe dementia can no longer do any simple tasks and may develop incontinence and swallowing problems.
Dementia is traditionally diagnosed with a physical exam and a mental status examination. Conditions such as thyroid disease, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, brain tumors, medication overdoses, infections, anemia, depression, and kidney disease need to be treated if they are the cause of the dementia. Numerous tests can be performed to determine if dementia is caused by an illness or imbalance. CT and heart scans, glucose and electrolyte tests, blood ammonia and chemistry levels, blood gas spinal fluid analyses, liver function tests, toxicology screens, thyroid tests, and urinalysis are just a few. When there is a simple physical cause for dementia, treatment restores mental function most of the time.
Behavior problems caused by dementia are often treated with antipsychotics, antidepressants, and stimulant drugs. Medications that may slow the rate of dementia include Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, and Namenda. While these medications may help a person with dementia function better for a longer period of time, later stages of dementia increase the risk of infections and illness because the person loses any ability to care for himself, such as hygiene, not taking medication, and inability to communicate problems to caregivers. Dementia is currently not curable; however, the risk of vascular dementia can be minimized by refraining from smoking and controlling high blood pressure, diabetes, and diet. Regular exercise is also important in maintaining health and brain function.