A Brief Guide to Dementia

Dementia is one of the most commonly misunderstood disorders affecting people today. Frequently, people use the terms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia interchangeably, but Alzheimer’s disease does not account for the majority of incidences of dementia. Dementia affects approximately 5 to 8 percent of people over the age of 65, and that percentage doubles with every 10 years of increased age, according to WebMD.

Dementia is characterized by confusion, forgetfulness, or other mental function problems that are sufficiently severe as to cause a disruption to daily life. Sometimes dementia patients show no obvious memory problems, but will display an abrupt and drastic change in personality. Sudden depression also can be a sign of dementia. Sometimes depression can cause dementia; in these cases, treating the underlying depression usually results in a quick improvement of the dementia symptoms. For some, depression is brought on by living alone and a lack of social interaction. In those cases, nursing homes with comprehensive and appealing social programs can be helpful. As the elderly population is becoming larger than it ever was before, many nursing homes are putting increased emphasis on entertainment, as well as socially and intellectually stimulating programs for their residents.

Some symptoms are particularly characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and should prompt a quick trip to the doctor. Alzheimer’s caught in its early stages is most receptive to treatment. Signs of early Alzheimer’s include changes in sleeping patterns, mood swings, problems completing simple tasks, becoming lost in familiar areas, and forgetting recent events. These symptoms can progress to paranoia, getting lost or wandering away, unprompted fear or anger, and trouble getting dressed or using the bathroom.

An important factor to understand is that of diagnosed incidences of dementia, 20 percent are very treatable. That means that if your loved one is showing signs of dementia, you should get him or her to a doctor for a full health evaluation, including mental functioning tests and blood tests, as soon as possible. If your loved one is suffering from a deficiency of vitamin B12, it may manifest as dementia symptoms. Hypothyroidism also causes dementia, as do other metabolic and nutritional disorders. Occasionally, the elderly intentionally drink too little water to reduce bathroom trips, but dehydration can quickly cause dementia symptoms.

Long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol is another common cause of dementia symptoms. Korsakoff’s syndrome is a commonly diagnosed type of dementia particularly characteristic of alcoholism. Sometimes suffers of Korsakoff’s will hoard possessions or fail to recognize friends and family members.

Even if the cause of dementia is serious, treatment options may be available. The field of Alzheimer’s research is constantly developing, and several drugs currently on the market have had a beneficial effect in clinical trials on Alzheimer’s symptoms.