Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to age-related cognitive decline caused by a variety of factors as well as by the aging process, in some people. The term is also used to refer to a range of symptoms, from some minor difficulty functioning to severe impairment. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition that affects more than 5 million Americans. There is currently no cure for most types of dementia, but certain treatments can help alleviate the symptoms temporarily.
What are the warning signs of dementia?
When a person experiences memory and thinking problems that prevent them from functioning normally on an ongoing basis, they have dementia. There are three major red flags for dementia: either the individual, their family, or a doctor gets concerned that there has been a significant decline in memory and thinking ability; their performance on thinking or memory tests is impaired; and/or issues related to thinking and memory problems are interfering with everyday activities, from the complex (cleaning, cooking, taking medicine) to the simple (bathing, dressing, eating, and using the bathroom).
How do you get dementia?
Dementia is not a diagnosis—it says nothing about the underlying cause of thinking and memory impairment. Dementia can be caused by a variety of factors, including thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, side effects of prescriptions, depression, anxiety, infections, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, and other medical problems. In some cases, cognitive impairment may be reversible if diagnosed and treated early enough.
What is the difference between dementia and standard memory loss?
Some memory loss is a result of normal aging rather than dementia. Memory problems become concerning when they are disabling and prevent normal, everyday functioning. Some early warning signs of possible dementia include having trouble using words in speaking and writing, having difficulty working with numbers and making plans, struggling to complete routine tasks (like directions to a familiar place), losing track of the normal passage of time, and getting confused easily. A person with dementia may also show signs of poor judgment, exhibit changes in mood or personality, or begin withdrawing from their usual social activities.
How quickly does dementia progress?
Dementia can be mild, moderate, or severe. The progression tends to be slow and can vary depending on the individual patient. Generally, the rate of mental decline is slowest during the earlier and later stages of the disease and may take years to become seriously debilitating.
What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
While the terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s is actually a subset of dementia, along with Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s is extremely common, accounting for around 60-80 percent of all dementia diagnoses.
Are depression and anxiety common in people who have dementia?
Yes, being aware of your own cognitive decline tends to evoke depression and anxiety. Just the worry that you might be losing your mind can cause you to become depressed or anxious. Plus, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s often deplete neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which impact one’s mood and calmness.
As a result, anxiety and depression occur in more than half of those individuals who get dementia. Meditation, exercise, medication, and therapy emphasizing relaxation are often effective in treating the anxiety and depression that frequently accompany dementia.
Preventing and Treating Dementia
Making key lifestyle changes is critical to reducing a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, as well as maintaining good cognitive functioning as long as possible. This includes engaging in regular physical activity, which increases blood and oxygen flow in the brain. It’s also important to eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of water, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting sugar and saturated fats.
Staying socially engaged later in life can also help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; this may include developing a strong, supportive network of friends and families and becoming a part of communities that matter to you.
Can dementia be cured?
No, there is no cure for dementia. However, healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of serious cognitive impairment, and in some cases, treating the underlying cause can reverse the negative effects.
How can dementia be prevented?
Cognitive decline may be unavoidable, but it can be delayed through healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a nutritious diet; nutrients like lutein (a carotenoid pigment found in egg yolks and leafy green and cruciferous vegetables) can save the gray matter in your brain. Prioritize good sleep, don’t smoke, limit your alcohol consumption, stay physically active, and look for ways to keep your brain active (e.g., crossword puzzles). Staying social active may also offset the risk of cognitive decline, especially starting around age 60.
Source: Dementia | Psychology Today
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