Dementia is a word that describes a group of symptoms caused by disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes) that affect the brain. People with dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating. They may lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change. They may become agitated or see things that are not there.
Globally, dementia affects 47.5 million people. About 10% of people develop the disorder at some point in their lives. It becomes more common with age (but it is not a normal part of aging), about 3% of people between the ages of 65–74 have dementia, 19% between 75 and 84 and nearly half of those over 85 years of age. Light cognitive impairments, such as poorer short-term memory, can happen as a normal part of aging.
Types of dementia
Some of the more common types are:
- Alzheimer’s diseases- This is the most common cause of dementia. During the course of the disease, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells.
- Vascular dementia- If the oxygen supply to the brain fails, brain cells may die. The symptoms of vascular dementia can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time, through a series of small strokes.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies- This form of dementia gets its name from tiny spherical structures that develop inside nerve cells. Their presence in the brain leads to the degeneration of brain tissue.
- Fronto-temporal dementia- In fronto-temporal dementia, damage is usually focused in the front part of the brain. Personality and behaviour are initially more affected than memory.
- Korsakoff’s syndrome- Korsakoff’s syndrome is a brain disorder that is usually associated with heavy drinking over a long period. Although it is not strictly speaking a dementia, people with the condition experience loss of short term memory.
- HIV-related cognitive impairment- People with HIV and AIDS sometimes develop cognitive impairment, particularly in the later stages of their illness.
- Creutzfeldt-jakob disease- Prions are infectious agents that attack the central nervous system and then invade the brain, causing dementia. The best-known prion disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD.
- Mild cognitive impairment- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a relatively recent term, used to describe people who have some problems with their memory but do not actually have dementia.
- Rarer causes of dementia- There are many other rarer causes of dementia, including progressive supranuclear palsy and Binswanger’s disease. People with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease can also be at an increased risk of developing dementia.
Possible symptoms of dementia:
- Recent memory loss, a sign of this might be asking the same question repeatedly
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks for example, making a drink or cooking a meal
- Problems communicating from difficulty with language, forgetting simple words or using the wrong ones
- Disorientation such as getting lost on a previously familiar street
- Problems with abstract thinking for instance, dealing with money
- Misplacing things
- Mood changes
- Personality changes, perhaps becoming irritable, suspicious or fearful
- Loss of initiative such as, showing less interest in starting something or going somewhere
Some Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) that always occur in all types of dementia may manifest as:
- Abnormal motor behavior
- Elated mood
- Disinhibition and impulsivity
- Delusions (often believing people are stealing from them) or hallucinations
- Changes in sleep or appetite.
How to prevent dementia
There is no certain way to prevent all types of dementia. However, to reduce your risk of developing dementia and other serious health conditions, it’s recommended that you:
- eat a healthy diet
- maintain a healthy weight
- exercise regularly
- don’t drink too much alcohol
- stop smoking (if you smoke)
- make sure to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level
Diagnosis of Dementia
Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia. Many of us notice that our memory becomes less reliable as we get older. It can also be a symptom of stress or depression. In rare cases, dementia-like symptoms can be caused by vitamin deficiencies or a brain tumour.
Diagnosing dementia is often difficult, particularly in the early stages, however, assessments can include conversations with the person being diagnosed and those close to them, a physical examination, memory tests and/or brain scans.
The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) is the most commonly used test for complaints of memory problems or when a diagnosis of dementia is being considered.
Management of dementia
In most instances, there are no ways to cure the diseases that cause dementia. However, dementia can be managed by:
- Computerizedcognitive training among otherwise healthy older people, may improve memory.
- Cognitive and behavioral interventions.
- Educating and providing support for the person with dementia, as well as caregivers and family members, improves outcomes.
- Exercise programs are beneficial with respect to activities of daily living and potentially improve dementia.
- Medications may be used to treat the behavioural and cognitive symptoms but have no effect on the underlying disease process.
- Psychological therapies.
- Use of palliative care.
Compiled by: Edokita Team
- Alzheimer’s Society. About dementia. Web
- Markus MacGill. Dementia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments. MNT, 2016.
- NHS Choices Information. Can dementia be prevented? 2014.Web
- Michael Valenzuela and Perminder Sachdev. Can Cognitive Exercise Prevent the Onset of Dementia? Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials with Longitudinal Follow-up. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 17:3, March 2009
- Dementia. 2017. Web