Dementia: More a symptom than a disease
Dementia is sometimes misunderstood as a disease. In reality, it’s a term given to a wide variety of symptoms associated with the decline in a person’s memory severe enough to impair their ability to perform day-to-day activities.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts around 70% of cases of dementia.
The second most common form of dementia is vascular dementia, and it occurs after a stroke. There are certain conditions which can cause reversible symptoms of dementia, including thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
Basically, damage to the brain cells causes dementia because it interferes with the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, as a result of which the thinking, behaviour and feelings of an individual can be affected. The brain divides various responsibilities of the body (memory, communication, balance etc) into corresponding sections and regions many distinct regions, and when the cells of a particular region become damaged, they are unable to carry out the functions assigned to them.
Depending upon the size of brain cell damage and its location, people can suffer from different types of dementia. In Alzheimer’s disease, for example, high levels of particular proteins surrounding the brain cells make it hard for them to communicate with each other, thus impairing their abilities. The hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in one’s brain, and the brain cells in this area are generally the first to be damaged. This is the reason behind memory loss being one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s.
Depending upon the kind of dementia one is suffering from, its symptoms can vary greatly, but a combination of at least two symptoms mentioned below is considered dementia:
- Memory Loss
- Problem in communication
- Inability to express oneself
- Impaired reasoning and judgment
- Impaired visual perception
- Inability to focus and pay attention
The most common type of memory loss is short-term memory loss, where people can’t remember where the put the TV remote or wallet, doctor’s appointments etc. A memory loss does not necessarily mean they suffer from Alzheimer’s; it can be another form of dementia.
A lot of forms of dementias are progressive in nature, which means that the symptoms start out slowly and then gradually start getting worse. If you know someone who is experiencing memory loss or impaired judgement skills, be alert. Take them to a doctor to try understand the reasons behind such behaviour.
Even if someone is diagnosed of dementia, don’t panic because an early diagnosis gives them the maximum benefit from treatments and therapies available, giving them enough time to plan for their future as well.
Treatment and Care
The treatment of dementia depends completely on how it occurred in the first place as well as its severity. In progressive dementias, today there exists no cure or treatment that can slow down or even stop its progression. However, some drug treatments can temporarily improve certain symptoms of the condition.