Dementia is a term used for a group of symptoms that are caused by a more severe disease. Symptoms range from slight memory loss to a total decline in mental ability, serious enough to prevent someone from doing his daily task. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
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What is Dementia?
Dementia Is Not a Disease
Dementia is not a disease but rather a collection of symptoms related to problems in language, communication, focus, and reasoning, as well as memory problem.
Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia is when the brain has insufficient supply of blood and oxygen due to brain stroke or brain injury. It is the second-most common cause of dementia. Most often, brain strokes are left unnoticed because its symptoms like weakness, numbness, or visual loss are not evident. Persons with high-blood pressure or heart disease are at risk of developing vascular dementia.
But that’s not the only possible causes of dementia—thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies are also factors. Dementia is often mistakenly believed to be a natural occurrence in aging. Though the symptoms appear mostly in older persons, it’s not a normal part of aging.
Memory Loss and Other Symptoms of Dementia
Symptoms of dementia are not necessarily the same for all patients. But at least the following conditions should be present for it to be considered dementia: memory problem, difficulty in communicating (language), unable to concentrate, problems in visual perception, reasoning, and judgment.
Most types of dementia are progressive, which means it is gradually growing damage inside the brain. People with dementia generally have short-term memories, troubles remembering names, faces, places and appointments. And it may slowly get worse. They may also experience loss of communication skills, disorientation to time and place, improper behavior, a problem in abstract thinking, motor and balance problem.
If you notice a loved one experiencing the abovementioned symptoms, do not ignore them. Ask them to schedule a visit to their doctor to determine the condition. It could be a terminal illness or a treatable condition. An early detection will give the person an opportunity to seek clinical trials and ample time to prepare for the future.
There are many causes of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, vascular, Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. Each type of dementia has different causes. This happens when brain cells cannot communicate properly with each other. They degenerate then die out eventually. The condition shrinks the brain and leads to a decline in mental abilities.
The brain has many regions, each of them taking a different job. Example, there’s a part of the brain that stores our memory, another for communication and language, and another for body movements. A damaged cell in one or more part of the brain means that that particular part can no longer function the way it used to.
In case of Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells have difficulty in communicating with each other because of the damage caused by the buildup of certain proteins inside. The hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of learning and memory, and other brain cells within the region are the first to be harmed. That’s the reason memory problems are most often the first signs of Alzheimer’s.
Although some causes of dementia are permanent and condition may deteriorate in the long run, memory loss and cognitive problems caused by vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, depression, too much alcohol, tumor and medication side effects can be treated and condition may be improved.
Diagnosis of Dementia
There is no particular test that can determine dementia in someone. For doctors to diagnose brain problems with dementia symptoms such as Alzheimer’s, they will let you undergo a series of laboratory tests and physical examination. They will also base their analysis on your medical history, cognitive tests, and behavior.
Physicians can determine accurately whether a particular person has dementia, but it’s difficult for them to pinpoint exactly the kind of dementia because symptoms for each type vary. You have to talk to a brain specialist like neurologist or gero-psychologist to get a more detailed diagnosis.
Dementia Treatment and Care
Depending on the cause, dementia can be treated. However, if the symptoms are caused by a degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, it can’t be cured or slowed down. Though there are drugs that can lessen the symptoms such as medication for Alzheimer’s, its effect is just temporary and the condition is bound to get worse.
Ultimately, the path to effective new treatments for dementia is through increased research funding and increased participation in clinical studies. Right now, volunteers are urgently needed to participate in more than 180 actively enrolling clinical studies and trials about Alzheimer’s and related dementia.
Dementia risk and prevention
Some types of dementia are influenced by age and heredity. Though most are irreversible, researchers have been studying the effect of other factors on mental wellness. Clinician are focusing their research on reducing the risk and prevention of dementia, including cardiovascular factors, physical fitness, and diet.
Cardiovascular Risk Factors
The blood vessel is responsible for distributing vital nutrients and oxygen around your body. A broken blood vessel anywhere on your body means your brain cells are deprived of nutrients necessary for a healthy brain and could lead to vascular dementia. To help protect your brain, you must also protect your heart by not smoking, maintaining healthy blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, and maintaining a healthy weight.
You can also help yourself by doing the following:
Physical exercise doesn’t just benefit your body but your mind as well. Regular workout is scientifically proven cognitive enhancer and short-term memory booster. Exercise increases heart rate, which pumps more blood and oxygen to the brain. It also helps body release hormones that promote the growth of brain cells.
Your brain’s health is partly reliant to your heart’s health. Based on some studies, diets such as Mediterranean may help secure the brain. Foods such as red met, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, shellfish, fish, nuts, olive oil, and other healthy fats that are good for your hearts may as well benefit your brain.
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