As people age, many have occasional lapses of memory, such as losing keys or forgetting names. These do not qualify as dementia, however. Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

At least two of the following core mental functions must be impaired significantly to be considered dementia: Memory; communication and language; ability to focus and pay attention; reasoning and judgment; and visual perception. 5 to 8 percent of people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia. It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of people over 85 suffer from dementia.

Dementia might lead to other problems, including:

·         Inadequate nutrition

·         Reduced hygiene

·         Difficulty taking medications

·         Deterioration of emotional health

·         Difficulty communicating

·         Sleep difficulties

·         Personal safety challenges

·         Hallucinations

·         Inappropriate behavior

·         Suspicions

·         Personality changes

Damage to brain cells causes dementia. Damage to certain types of brain cells is associated with different types of dementia.

Dementias are typically progressive, which means that symptoms start slowly and worsen gradually. Types of dementia include:

·         Alzheimer’s disease, from which 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases result.

·         Vascular dementia, the second most common type, in which a stroke or series of strokes causes a chronic, reduced blood flow to the brain. Often, the strokes are so small that you might not notice any symptoms.

·         Lewy body dementia, which affects about 10 percent of dementia patients.

·         Frontotemporal dementia, a less common cause of dementia that tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer’s disease, generally between 50 and 70.

For most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, we have no cure and no treatment that slows their progression. Drug treatments, however, might temporarily improve symptoms. Other therapies also can alleviate some symptoms of dementia.

Treatable conditions that mimic dementia, such as depression, medication side effects, excessive use of alcohol, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, infections and anoxia can be reversible.

Medication can help ease the depression associated with dementia. By relieving depression, the patient is more likely to maintain an interest in eating and continuing other activities of daily living. Keeping the mind active and interested in life could help the patient extend his or her life.

Risk factors that you can change include alcohol use, atherosclerosis, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, diabetes, obesity and smoking.

Among the areas of research into preventing dementia are cardiovascular factors, physical fitness and diet.

Pay attention to any memory difficulties or changes in thinking skills. See a physician promptly if you notice these. A physician might detect a treatable condition. Even if dementia is diagnosed, finding dementia early allows the patient to obtain the maximum benefit from available treatments and even to participate in clinical trials of new treatments.

RGJ Reno Gazette-Journal


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