Dementia is a common medical concern for many, especially as we age. Data from the Alzheimer’s Association shows that 5.8 million people in the U.S. are dealing some form of dementia. But despite the number of people living with dementia, the disease still isn’t completely understood. That’s largely because it’s a disease that often takes different forms and progresses differently depending on the individual who has it.
What Is Dementia?
The term dementia refers to a disease that impacts a person’s memory and social skills. It can limit a person’s ability to think clearly and impacts the ability to care for one’s self. The condition can begin at any time but is more common in adults over the age of 65 and tends to progress at different rates depending on type, overall wellness and other factors unique to individuals. The most common and recognized form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss, but there are a variety of symptoms, including cognitive changes, psychological changes and physical changes. They may include:
- Memory loss, typically beginning with mild, occasional forgetfulness and progressing to a consistent inability to recall names, places and events
- Trouble communicating, such as being unable to find the right words to say
- Trouble completing complex tasks such as balancing a checkbook
- Reasoning and problem-solving difficulty
- Inability to plan or coordinate
- Changes to or loss of motor function
- Depression and anxiety
- Personality changes
If a friend or relative is consistently displaying any of these symptoms of dementia, it’s best to seek out the care of a doctor for a professional opinion.
Types of Dementia
There are several forms of dementia, each with different symptoms, management techniques and progression rates. Here are a few of the most common:
Alzheimer’s accounts for up to 80 percent of cases of dementia. Memory loss and depression are often early signs, but the condition causes brain cell death leading to confusion and mood changes, as well as difficulty walking and speaking.
The second most common type of dementia, vascular dementia, occurs when there is a lack of normal blood flow to the brain, often related to strokes or atherosclerotic disease. It can appear suddenly and tends to begin with concentration problems, disorientation and confusion.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Often shortened to DLB, this disease often creates a decline in a person’s ability to reason, think and function independently due to changes in the amount of deposits on brain cells.
This form of brain disorder is brought on by a defective gene, causing changes to the brain’s central area. This impacts mood, thinking and movement.
Other types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia and mixed dementia, which is when two or more types of dementia are present in an individual.
Causes of Dementia
The exact cause of dementia is not well understood, but we know that changes to the brain’s chemistry are one of the major sources of symptoms. Changes in the brain include loss of or damage to the nerve cells and their connections. This can be brought on by the buildup of protein deposits on the nerve endings, a loss of blood flow to the areas or genetic-related breakdown. The genetic component to dementia is still being researched, but in general you’re at a higher risk of dementia if a close family member has also been diagnosed with dementia.
Dementia is difficult to diagnose with certainty, and the only definite diagnosis comes with an autopsy. However, experienced physicians and memory care specialists can use symptoms and tests to make a likely diagnosis. That diagnosis process begins when someone, often a friend or family member, notices the symptoms in someone close to them. Early diagnosis is important to managing symptoms and maintaining a high quality of life, which is why family members are so important in this process.
People that have any type of cognitive impairment and are showing signs of having trouble performing daily functions should be brought in to see a doctor. Things like forgetting to pay bills or not being able to drive safety are indicators. Doctors will run cognitive and neuropsychological tests along with brain scans to make a more informed diagnosis.
There is no cure for dementia. However, the symptoms can be managed. Depending on the type of dementia, different medications and proper wellness strategies can reduce the impact to daily life. Doctors may use medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors to boost the function of the chemical messengers in the brain and memantine to help regulate brain functions. Additionally, some people benefit from occupational therapy.
Complete wellness – exercising the body and mind and maintaining strong social connections – may also benefit those with dementia, helping them manage their symptoms.
Many people in the early stages of dementia are largely independent. Even as the disease progresses, people live full, happy lives, although they often need support and a comfortable, safe environment. For those living with family members or friends, reducing clutter and lowering noise levels are simple changes that help many in the early stages of dementia relax. Making tasks easier for them to manage is also important.
As dementia progresses, more support is often necessary. A part- or full- time caregiver can help provide assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs), reducing the burden on relatives and friends. A supportive living environment with memory care is another good option. Memory care communities are staffed by trained professions who understand memory impairments like dementia and can provide the support individuals need.
If you have questions about dementia or memory care communities, contact the Cabana at Jensen Dunes. Our Florida memory care community has a trained staff that can help you better understand dementia and the options available to you.