As one gets older, one may experience memory loss, which is normal as age, tiredness, stress or certain illness and medication can affect memory. But if this memory loss is persistent, affecting ones routine activities, it may be dementia. Dementia is the loss of mental ability characterised by loss of functions such as memory, thinking and reasoning that is serious to an extent of disorienting a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease by itself; it is a collection of symptoms that result from various diseases or conditions. Like most mental disorders, dementia can be characterised by changes in behaviour, mood and personality. In cases where the cause of dementia is treatable, dementia can be managed or cured, for instance dementia resulting from substance abuse, hormone imbalance. In some cases though, a person may appear as having dementia, although this may be symptoms of severe depression. In this case the condition is known as pseudo-dementia/false dementia which is fortunately readily curable. Nevertheless, serious dementia cannot be treated.
The Science behind Dementia
Dementia occurs when parts of the human brain that are associated with learning, memory, language, decision making, understanding, mental agility and judgement are affected by one or more of a wide spectrum of diseases or infections causing the condition.
Causes of Dementia
Dementia can be caused by a variety of diseases. The most common cause of the condition is Alzheimer’s disease which causes up to 60 per cent of dementias. The other causes of dementia are not common. However, several conditions are known to cause dementia, they include;
Untreatable Causes of Dementia
- Diseases that lead to degeneration or loss of nerve cells in the brain like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases
- Diseases that affect blood vessels including stroke, which leads to a condition known as multi-infarct dementia
- Infections that affect the spinal cord and the brain for example AIDS dementia complex
- Head injury resulting from severe injury or prolonged smaller injuries for instance those acquired while boxing
Treatable Causes of Dementia
- Toxic reactions including drug and alcohol abuse
- Some types of hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid in the brain)
Symptoms of Dementia
- People with dementia can become unconcerned with their routine activities, and have issues controlling their emotions. They also have problems with socializing and aspects of their personality may change.
- People with dementia also lose empathy i.e. understanding and compassion. They hallucinate (seeing or hearing things that others do not) or much worse, make false statements or claims.
- Victims of dementia may also encounter difficulties in organizing and planning as dementia affects mental ability.
- Maintaining their independence is also a problem and as such people with dementia usually require some assistance from family and friends especially with decision making.
Other symptoms may include increased difficulties with routine activities and tasks that call for planning and concentration, depression, periods of mental confusion, changes in personality and moods, difficulty saying the correct words among other coordination problems.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia
Though many forms of dementias cannot be cured, early detection can help in devising ways to minimize its effect and maintain mental function. Not only does early diagnosis assist dementia patients to get the right treatment and support, but it also helps those close to them to prepare and plan for their care. A person with dementia can lead an active and fulfilled life if given the right treatment and necessary support.
If you or a close relative or a friend are becoming increasingly forgetful, especially if one is above 65 years, it is advisable to seek medical opinion regarding early signs of dementia. This may help in avoiding serious dementia by managing it as early as possible.