Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

by Calyn Ehid
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Rather than being an actual disease, dementia is classified as a syndrome, which is a group of symptoms with no definitive diagnosis. These symptoms involve decreased ability in the areas of reasoning and memory. Dementia occurs due to injury or disease that affects the function and, sometimes, the structure of the brain. It can also result from multiple conditions that occur together. As it progresses, it can greatly impact the person’s ability to live an independent life.

Dementia can sometimes be effectively treated, depending on the underlying cause of the signs and symptoms. Medications can sometimes be helpful in treating behavioral changes, memory loss and sleep problems. There are also alternative treatments, such as fish or coconut oil, whose aim is to boost overall brain function and health. The easiest forms of dementia to treat are those caused by drug interactions, hypoglycemia, metabolic disorders, and tumors. Unfortunately, these forms are also extremely rare.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

The prognosis for dementia depends entirely on the underlying cause. When a vascular problem, such as a stroke, is the cause there is usually more that can be done to reduce symptoms and prolong life, but it will, ultimately, shorten the lifespan.

The key to having the best prognosis possible following a diagnosis of dementia syndrome is to catch it as early as possible. To do so, it’s important to be able to recognize the earliest signs and symptoms when they first appear. This article should give you the tools you need to do so.

Signs of Dementia

Some of the first signs of dementia to appear include changes in mood or short-term memory. There might be signs of confusion, apathy or difficulty in retrieving words. Other early signs can include having difficulty in following a storyline or being repetitive in words or actions. The person will often develop a poor sense of direction as well. Often, dementia involves trouble adapting to changes. Some later signs that might occur with dementia includes loss of memory significant enough to disrupt daily life, trouble solving problems and difficulty in completing familiar tasks. Final signs can involve radical changes in personality and withdrawal from social or work activities. These later signs tend to lead to a gradual, self-imposed isolation from friends and family followed by loneliness and despair.

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Causes of Dementia

There can be many causes of dementia. It generally involves some level of brain cell death, often due to a neurodegenerative disease, which is a process that occurs over time. What can sometimes be unclear, however, is whether the brain cell death causes the dementia or is caused by it. Other potential causes of dementia can include head injury, a brain tumor, or a stroke. There could be a prion disease, which results from infection by a protein-based particle. Finally, there are several reversible factors, such as medication interactions, vitamin deficiencies, depression, or thyroid abnormalities, that can temporarily display signs of dementia.

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How to Deal with Dementia in Yourself

Depending on the type of dementia diagnosed, there will typically be some level of grief you’re going to experience. How to deal with dementia in yourself can vary quite a bit, depending on the level of impairment involved and how you cope with stressful or upsetting situations. You will serve yourself best by learning what symptoms to expect and taking steps to ensure that any loss of ability is dealt with before it becomes a problem. Experts recommend that you create a record of your personal history and the things that are important to you. This information may become useful if the dementia reaches an advanced stage.

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How to Deal with Dementia in Others

There’s not one right way how to deal with dementia with others. Being a caregiver, particularly when it’s a close family member, can take an incredible toll on someone’s emotional and physical health. Fatigue can be a major issue and caregiver self-care is essential. Assemble a support network and don’t hesitate to use it. How to deal with dementia with others can depend on the level of illness. With mild impairment, emotional support is the most important thing. A moderate level will likely require an increasing need for physical assistance, and a care facility might become necessary.

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Dementia Testing

There are several types of dementia testing your doctor might want to explore. Because it’s not an actual disease but, rather, a collection of symptoms that signify that there’s a problem, dementia testing is focused on discovering the underlying problem and the doctor knows what to look for. The first thing the doctor will want to do is take a medical history. There will also be physical and mental exams performed. Finally, lab work and imaging tests will be performed. The goal of this dementia testing is to determine whether or not the indications presented by the patient are the result of a treatable condition.

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What Ages are Typically Affected by Dementia

There really is no easy answer to what ages are typically affected by dementia. Although it is typically thought of as an old person’s issue, younger onset dementia does occasionally happen. It can happen as early as the 50’s, 40’s, or even the 30’s. This, however, is extremely rare. For the most part, diagnosis usually occurs at 65 years or older. Approximately 1 in 7 people between the ages of 65 and 69 have been diagnosed with dementia. By the time they reach 85 years old, however, that risk increases to 1 in 4.

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Types of Dementia

There are more than a dozen types of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s. This accounts for between 60 and 80 percent of dementia cases. Although it can’t be diagnosed with absolute certainty without microscopic, post mortem examination of brain tissue, the distinguishing characteristic of Alzheimer’s is the plaques, protein tangles, damaged nerve cells and brain tissue death only seen in this type. Other types of dementia range from mild cognitive impairment to Lewy Bodies. Another type, called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, has been linked to contact sports, such as boxing and football, and is the result of brain degeneration due to repeated concussions.

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Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s

The term dementia describes any symptoms that impair memory, ability to communicate or perform daily activities. The best way to distinguish the two, when comparing Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, is that someone can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s but not the other way around. Alzheimer’s is just one of many types of dementia. It is crucial to the management and treatment of patient symptoms to distinguish between Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, diagnosable disease whereas dementia refers to a syndrome, which is a collection of symptoms. In addition to memory impairment and difficulty in communicating, Alzheimer’s also includes mood and behavioral changes, impaired judgement and, in the advanced stages, difficulty walking and swallowing.

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Living With Dementia

Although the diagnosis might come as a shock to everyone, it is possible to live with dementia. It’s important to make each day the best it can possibly be. The key to managing whatever symptoms you may be dealing with is establishing a predictable routine and knowing what to look for as things progress. Finding strategies to deal with problems as they develop is another way of living with dementia. As communication difficulties occur, it’s important to find ways to work around the problem so the person isn’t isolated from the world around them. Plans will also need to be made to get financial and legal affairs in order.