Growing old is a universal phenomenon. Aches and pains, stiffness in the joints and mild forgetfulness are common complaints of the elderly. When symptoms of forgetfulness are accompanied by confusion, changes in personality, difficulties with thinking and diminishing ability to perform everyday tasks; it is time to consult your GP and discuss early signs of Dementia and associated care.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is not one specific disease. In fact, it is a group of symptoms which adversely affect a person’s cognitive abilities, especially memory and logic, social skills causing cracks in relationships with loved ones, detachment with reality and a general loss of self, gradually leading to greater dependency on caregivers. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s which shows up in 50% to 70% of cases characterized by progresssive nerve damage. Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as ‘senility’ with the inference that it is a normal part of aging. However, it is a common observation that not all elderly display signs of dementia.
Dementia affects the quality of life not only of the patient, but also takes a staggering physical and mental toll on the families affected.
In 2015 alone, about 46 million people were diagnosed with dementia. At least 10% of the population is at risk of suffering from the disorder at any stage of their life. People are also more prone to develop dementia as they age. Records suggest that 3% of the elderly aged between 65 -74 have dementia. A more alarming statistic is that at least 1.7 million people died of the brain disease in 2013. It is also the most common cause of disability among the old.1En.wikipedia.org, 2017
The hard facts are that dementia affects 47.5 million people worldwide with 60% of cases diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. About 33% people aged 85 and above, have Alzheimer’s. The worrying thing is that the cost of care could reach $1 trillion by 2030.2Dementia.org, 2017
Signs and Symptoms
As per the Alzheimer’s Association website (Alz.org, 2017) signs of dementia can differ greatly but to be correctly diagnosed a patient should demonstrate severe impairment of at least two of the following:
- Language and communication
- Ability to concentrate and be attentive
- Logic and ability to make judgments
The quality of life of the individual is greatly affected in the process, and he or she is unable to undertake activities eagerly looked forward to in the past.
Dementia causes problems with short-term memory; remembering where one put their purse or wallet; payment of bills, organizing and making meals; keeping track of appointments or travelling without assistance. In most cases, the initial symptoms aren’t overt, almost undetected but gradually get worse. It is also important to take into account that dementia is not a disease but a syndrome, i.e., it shares several characteristics with other brain diseases.
Dementia is mainly caused by damage to brain cells, and different types of dementia occur due to damage to different sections of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer’s high levels of certain proteins in the brain cells hamper communication between the cells. Learning and memory centers in the brain are the first to be damaged. This is why one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss.
There is no single test to determine the onset of dementia. Usually, dementia is diagnosed with a high level of certainty based on a study of a patient’s medical history, a physical exam, laboratory tests and daily functions and behavior of the patients. But doctors may not be able to determine the exact type of dementia in which case other specialists may be consulted such as a neurologist.
While most damage to the brain is permanent, in some conditions, dementia is treatable and reversible. The most common conditions in which dementia, particularly memory and thinking, can be treated are:
- Side effects of certain medications
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Problems with the thyroid
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia at present. That said, certain drugs may be prescribed which can slow down the process or even improve the symptoms. There are also some remedies in alternative medicine which may work for some.
There is little that can be done about some risk factors such as age and genetics in the prevention of dementia. People at risk of dementia are often advised to manage their lifestyle, including their diet. Also, quit smoking, excessive intake of alcohol, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check in addition to managing your weight. It is known that exercise, even a walk at a mild pace increases oxygen and blood supply to the heart and brain. So, the elderly are often advised to leave the couch and take short walks to the park for fresh air. Doctors also recommend a nutritious diet comprising whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for a healthy body.
WARNING SIGNS OF DEMENTIA:
There are at least ten warning signs that you or your loved one is at risk of dementia:
- Trouble remembering routine things and objects, their location and where to find them
- Has trouble with numbers, keeping appointments, remembering rules of a game or managing a budget
- Lose their way, forget certain skills such as driving or cycling and are confused about the passage of time, the seasons of the year and so on
- Difficulties with reading, judging the distance or distinguishing between different colours
- Forgetting vocabulary and names of familiar objects; coining their own phrases
- Putting things in unusual places and being unable to retrace the steps to how they got there in the first place
- Unable to judge the use of money and pay less attention to personal hygiene
- May begin avoiding company and become increasingly reclusive
- Changes in mood and personality becoming increasingly fearful, suspicious, depressed and anxious
It is worthwhile to remember that dementia can happen to anybody but early diagnosis and intervention can help to slow down its progress. Consult a doctor without delay if you suspect dementia symptoms in your loved one.
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