Dementia is often inaccurately described as memory loss. However, the term dementia is not representative of a specific disease. Rather, dementia is a general term which represents a decline in cognitive and behavioral abilities to such a degree that it interferes with a person’s daily life. Dementia describes a range of symptoms associated with that decline including memory, thinking, reasoning and behavioral abilities.
Symptoms of dementia depend on the cause and can vary significantly from one person to another. Some cognitive symptoms may include memory loss, confusion, and disorientation, as well as trouble with communication and language, reasoning and judgment, planning and organizing, coordination and motor functions, and managing complex tasks. Some psychological symptoms may include personality changes, depression, anxiety, inappropriate behavior, paranoia, and agitation.
Dementias tend to be progressive and range in severity from one stage to the next. In the earliest stage, a person’s cognitive and behavioral abilities are just beginning to be affected. However, symptoms will slowly and gradually worsen overtime until eventually the person becomes completely dependent on others for daily care.
Dementia is a result of damage to brain cells. When brain cells are damaged, they cannot properly communicate with each other. This lack of communication affects a person’s cognitive and behavioral functions. The type of dementia a person has is directly related to which brain cells are damaged and the area of the brain that is affected.
While most dementias tend to be irreversible and progressive, there are some that can improve with appropriate treatment. Some of these dementias include depression, vitamin deficiencies, poor reaction to medications, and chronic alcoholism. While these conditions are serious, they are also treatable and possibly reversible.
Some progressive and irreversible dementias include Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. However, Alzheimer’s disease is considered the most common of progressive dementias. Currently, there is no cure and treatment depends on the specific dementia. Medications can be used to lessen cognitive symptoms and environmental influences may help with behavioral symptoms.
There are many risk factors that can lead to dementia, some of which can be controlled and some that cannot. While age and genetics cannot be changed, alcohol use, depression, diabetes, smoking, and sleep apnea are among those factors that a person may be able to control. Researchers are actively investigating different factors associated with decreasing the number of risks as well as prevention of dementia, including diet and exercise.
Sources: Alzheimer’s Association National Institute of Aging Mayo Clinic