Around 55 million people all over the world suffer from dementia, and this number is increasing rapidly, expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a natural consequence of growing old. It’s a disease that can be managed pretty well, especially in the early stages – and you should always seek help if you notice alarming symptoms in the way you or your loved ones behave.
Today, we are going to talk about everything you need to know about dementia – what it is exactly, how it manifests itself, in whom it occurs most often, ways of managing it and supporting the person with this diagnosis. Some of those can seem scary, especially if you have already encountered dementia in your life. However, remember that today, it can be managed well, research on beating it is still running, there are plenty of articles on dementia care on the internet, and, most importantly – you’re not alone.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a chronic brain disease that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It’s characterized by a gradual decline in the ability to think and remember, which interferes with normal daily activities. It can be caused by any number of things – diseases, traumatic injury, genetics, infections, or substance abuse. Most of the time, it occurs when the brain is damaged by any of these things.
There are several types of dementia. The most common ones are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. All of them have similar symptoms, which include memory loss, confusion, difficulty with problem-solving and concentration, and changes in personality and behavior.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia can be caused by any number of things, including:
- Brain trauma
- Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause)
- Vascular dementia (can be caused by stroke or high blood pressure)
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (caused by Parkinson’s disease)
- Frontotemporal dementia (caused by brain tumors and strokes)
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus (caused by blockage of cerebrospinal fluid flow)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (caused by infection from the cattle)
- Huntington’s disease (caused by a genetic mutation)
- Infections (caused by viruses such as herpes simplex, HIV, or syphilis)
What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?
As we already mentioned, dementia can manifest itself in many different ways. However, some symptoms are very common and should alert you to the fact that something is not right. These include:
- Memory loss
- Confusion and disorientation
- Being easily distracted and unable to maintain attention for longer periods of time
- Poor decision-making and judgment
- Less interest in routine social engagements and activities you used to love
- Mood swings
- Changes in personality and behavior
- Inability to perform simple tasks such as using kitchen appliances, driving a car, etc.
- Inability to recognize familiar faces
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Inability to follow instructions or remember anything taught to you, even if it’s a short time after
There are also certain health conditions that may mimic dementia symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to rule them out first before going to a specialist. These include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Exhaustion due to poor sleep habits or stress
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Chronic pain disorders
- Medical conditions such as thyroid problems, diabetes, low blood pressure etc.
How Is Dementia Diagnosed?
In order to check for dementia, you will have to visit your doctor and tell him about the symptoms you have been experiencing. The doctor will then perform a physical examination and a series of tests. These may include:
- Blood tests to check for infections or other conditions that can cause dementia
- EEG or brain scan to check for brain tumors or strokes. It may also show whether there is damage to the brain
- Psychological testing that measures memory, problem-solving skills, language use, visuospatial skills etc.
- Neurological evaluation that checks for balance, coordination, reflexes etc.
The doctor will also check whether you’re under any medications that might worsen the symptoms of dementia. This is especially important if you’re taking antipsychotics or antihistamines. After performing all of these tests, the doctor will make a diagnosis based on the results. If they find signs of dementia, they will refer you to a specialist.
What Are the Treatments for Dementia?
Early detection is key when dealing with any form of dementia. This way, you have more time to seek help from doctors and specialists on how to manage it properly. Once it’s been diagnosed properly, doctors will prescribe medications on how to manage it properly. Additionally, there are certain lifestyle changes that can reduce some of the symptoms associated with this disease. These include:
- Medication: Certain medications can help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, there are no drugs that can cure the brain damage caused by dementia.
- Cognitive therapy: These therapies help people with cognitive problems such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating.
- Physical exercises: Physical exercises such as walking and yoga can improve mental function and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Mindfulness meditation: Meditation can strengthen your mind, body, and soul, reducing the risk of dementia.
- Healthy diet: A healthy diet can reduce the risk of dementia by improving blood flow to the brain, supporting cognitive function, and reducing the risk of stroke.
What Are the Risk Factors?
- Age: The risk of developing dementia increases with age. The average age of onset is 65 years old.
- Gender: Men have a higher risk of developing dementia than women do.
- Genetic factors: There are several genetic disorders that increase the risk of developing dementia. These include Down’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- History of head trauma: People who have had head trauma have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Family history: If someone in your family has developed dementia, you are more likely to develop it too.
How To Support Someone With Dementia?
- Enlist a hospice care provider to provide home care services for the person to reduce stress and burden on the family, while also providing the necessary care and attention needed by the patient
- Assign duties: Assign one family member to take care of the grocery shopping, another to take care of the cleaning and laundry, and so on. This way, everyone will be accountable for their tasks and will understand what is expected of them.
- Be patient: You should never expect the person with dementia to behave or think any differently than they do. Instead, you should try to understand them and help them cope with their condition.
- Don’t fight: When taking care of someone with dementia, it’s very important not to argue or fight with them. They may not always remember why they’re angry at you, so it’s best not to engage in verbal arguments.
The Bottom Line
Dementia is a serious condition, but it can be managed well if you catch it early enough. There are plenty of things you can do to slow down its progression, keep the affected individual as healthy as possible, and enhance their quality of life.
The most important thing you can do is to support your loved one the best way you can. Try to help them perform daily tasks, organize their space so that it’s easier for them to find things, and remind them about appointments, events, etc. Also, encourage them to engage in physical activities or hobbies – this will help improve their mood and decrease stress. Finally, don’t forget to educate yourself on the ways of managing dementia – there are plenty of great resources online that can help you with that.