Dementia: Symptoms, Types and Treatments
Dementia is a broad term that describes impaired brain function involving memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia may cause a decline in cognitive abilities, including communication, planning and judgment. It also can affect language, mood and behavior.
The condition is chronic and progressive. An estimated 50 million people worldwide have dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed every year.
And it doesn’t just affect older people. While it is more common in people 65 and older, younger people also can develop early-onset dementia. There may be as many as 500,000 Americans under the age of 65 with dementia.
Common Types of Dementia
It is possible to have more than one type of dementia. Common types of dementia include:
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia that contributes to an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of cases. Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells over time, causing memory and thinking abilities to decline. Symptoms include memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, challenges in planning, confusion with time or place, misplacing things and trouble communicating through spoken or written language.
Lewy Body dementia develops when protein deposits — known as Lewy bodies — develop in nerve cells in the sections of the brain involved in memory, thinking and movement. In addition to memory loss, the condition may cause hallucinations and changes to a person’s alertness and focus. Some people with Lewy body dementia also experience physical symptoms, including balance problems, rigid muscles, stiffness, slow movements and trembling.
Vascular dementia is caused by issues with blood flow to the brain, usually resulting from stroke, that temporarily deprive the brain of oxygen and other nutrients. Vascular dementia causes issues with judgment, memory, planning, reasoning and other thought processes. About 10 percent of dementia cases fall under this category.
Symptoms vary, depending on what part and size of the brain is affected. Individuals with vascular dementia may have confusion, shortened attention span, depression, memory loss, dizziness, trouble maintaining balance, a sudden or frequent urge to urinate and a decline in analytical thinking skills.
Doctors will do a complete physical exam and take a full medical history, including all conditions, medications, family history and behavioral history. They also will ask about symptoms the patient is experiencing.
Memory or cognitive testing also can help diagnose dementia. These tests assess short and long-term memory, concentration and attention span, language and communication skills, and awareness of time and place.
Memory problems don't necessarily always mean dementia. Lapses in memory can be caused by other conditions, including:
● Delirium (confused caused by a medical condition)
● Side effects from some medications
A doctor may order tests — such as bloodwork — to rule out other causes of memory problems.
The doctor also may refer the patient to a psychiatrist or neurologist with experience treating dementia. The specialist may order a brain scan, such as a CT scan or MRI scan, before giving an official diagnosis and developing a treatment plan.
Common Treatments for Dementia
There is no “one size fits all” treatment for the condition because there are many types and causes of dementia. While there is no cure, there are treatments that can help improve symptoms. Common treatments include:
Medications. You may be prescribed medications that help reduce symptoms of dementia and support brain function.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Depression and anxiety are common in people who have dementia. CBT can help you understand the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to make positive life changes. Research shows CBT also may boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist will help you prepare for dementia progression and make your home safe by modifying your home environment and simplifying everyday tasks.
Tips for Caregivers
If you’re caring for someone with dementia, there are ways you can support your loved one. This includes:
● Attend doctor appointments to ask questions and get involved in your loved one’s care.
● Find support services in your area.
● Join a support group.
● Learn as much as you can about dementia.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Practice self-care: Eating a healthy balanced diet, and get regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
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