Dementia 101

May 2, 2014

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. There are as many as 50 plus types and variances of dementia. Chronic brain syndrome; Lewy body dementia; (LBD); Frontal temporal dementia (FTD); Vascular dementia; and Mild cognitive impairment; (MCI) are just to name a few.

Most types of dementia are nonreversible (degenerative). Nonreversible means the changes in the brain that are causing the dementia cannot be stopped or turned back. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. Lewy body disease is a leading cause of dementia in elderly adults. People with this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain areas of the brain. Dementia also can be due to many small strokes. This is called vascular dementia.

The following medical conditions also can lead to dementia:

 

  • Parkinson's disease  Multiple sclerosis

  • Huntington's disease  Pick's disease

  • Progressive supranuclear palsy

  • Infections that can affect the brain, such as HIV/AIDS and Lyme disease

 

Some causes of dementia may be stopped or reversed if they are found soon enough, including:

 

  • Brain tumors

  • Changes in blood sugar, sodium, and calcium levels (see: Dementia due to metabolic causes)  Low vitamin B12 levels

  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus

  • Use of certain medications, including cimetadine and some cholesterol-lowering medications  Chronic alcohol abuse

 

Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is rare in people under age 60. The risk for dementia increases as a person gets older. Dementia symptoms include difficulty with many areas of

 

mental function, including:

 

  • Language

  • Memory

  • Perception

  • Emotional behavior or personality

  • Cognitive skills (such as calculation, abstract thinking, or judgment)

 

The early symptoms of dementia can include:

 

  • Language problems, such as trouble finding the name of familiar objects  Misplacing items

  • Getting lost on familiar routes

  • Personality changes and loss of social skills

  • Losing interest in things you previously enjoyed, flat mood

  • Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought, but that used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines.

 

Dementia can often be diagnosed with a history and physical exam by a skilled doctor or nurse. A

 

health care provider will take a history, do a physical exam (including a neurological exam), and perform some tests of mental function called a mental status examination.

 

Call your health care provider if:

 

  • Dementia develops or a sudden change in mental status occurs  The condition of a person with dementia gets worse

  • You are unable to care for a person with dementia at home

 

 

 

Prevention:

Most causes of dementia are not preventable. You can reduce the risk of vascular dementia, which is caused by a series of small strokes, by quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure and diabetes. Exercise regularly, become alert to education and resources, socialize with others, and eat a low-fat diet. Most importantly, become pro-active with your healthcare. Be sure to get a routine health check-up for preventive maintenance sake. These are all good suggestions to help reduce the risk of dementia.

 

For more information about Dementia and brain maintenance call, Cindy Lester, A Day in Time at 262 248-2922 www.adayintime.org or the Alzheimer’s Association SE Wisconsin at 1-800-272-3900.

Portions of this article came from the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com). 

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