People normally think dementia is the loss of memory. However, it is more than that. It reduces cognitive skills and causes confusion and disorientation. Dementia develops due to various underlying medical conditions. Some forms of dementia are progressive, while some are reversible.
According to a recent census analysis report, in the year 2010, as many as 4.7 million people aged 65 or older and more in the United States were having Alzheimer’s disease.
The WHO (World Health Organization) says, approximately 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, with over 10 million new cases being reported every year. And Alzheimer’s makes the most common type of dementia, with 60% to 70% of cases under its name.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a broader term comprising loss of ability to think logically, gradual loss of memory, and reduction in decision-making skills. Dementia itself is not a disease. It is a representation of an underlying medical condition, most commonly a neurological disease. There are many causes of dementia.
The primary cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. More than half of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience some degree of dementia. In some cases, the symptoms of dementia are reversible, while in other cases, dementia is progressive owing to an increase in the severity of the underlying disease.
How are Memory Connections Made?
Memory is the process of encoding and storing the information inside the brain. It also includes retrieving the information whenever required. Memory is important to lead a normal life. It is our memory that helps us remember circumstances, relatives, and our friends. The memory connection is a complex process. The things we see, the knowledge we gain, and the relations we make are stored in the brain through mental representation.
The primary cells responsible for our memory are neurons. These cells continuously fire and change or create a memory in our brain, and as it develops from childhood to adulthood, the capacity to store information and its retrieval increases.
Neurons are the functional units of the nervous system. Each neuron relates to another through the synapse. When the brain processes any information, the neurons present in the brain pass the electrochemical signals to each other through the synapse. Because of these signals, there is a firing by surrounding neurons that varies in strength. This change of varying strength and the network of neuron connections results in memory.
It is important to note that there is no single place in the brain to store the information in the form of memory. Different areas of the brain specialize in storing different types of information— for instance, the hippocampus area of the brain stores episodic memories. The memory can be implicit memory and explicit memory. You can automatically remember the implicit memories, such as swimming; however, you try to remember the explicit memories.
Explicit memories can be episodic memories or semantic memories.
The brain processes the information in three different ways. These ways are:
- Sensory register. During this process, the brain receives information from the environment. As the person is not attentive to this information, the memory through the sensory register is transient and lasts for a few seconds.
- Short-term memory. There are two types of short-term memory; short-term memory and working memory. The brain requires short-term memory in cases where you remember something only to repeat the information. An example is remembering a telephone number. Working memory works when you need to remember the information to work upon, for example, when you remember a math problem that your teacher asks you to solve. When we talk about improving memory, we work on improving our working memory.
- Long-term memory. Many people think that once the information is stored as long-term memory, it remains there for life. However, sometimes, the information present in long-term memory may exist for a few days or months. The hippocampus changes the working memory into long-term memory by creating and changing the connections.
What are the Types of Dementia?
Following are some of the types of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s dementia. The most common type of dementia. This dementia involves the formation of clumps and plaques in the brain.
- Lewy body dementia. A type of progressive dementia. In this dementia, the patients have Lewy bodies in their brain; these are balloon-like clumps of protein.
- Vascular dementia. This type of dementia occurs due to damage in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. The symptoms of vascular dementia are a reduction in problem-solving skills and slow thinking.
- Frontotemporal dementia. This dementia involves the frontal and temporal lobe; this occurs due to damage to the nerve cells.
- Mixed dementia. This dementia involves the simultaneous presence of more than one type of dementia; this occurs in older people.
What are the Symptoms of Dementia?
The patient with dementia may experience the following symptoms:
- Personality changes
- Psychological changes such as anxiety, depression, and stress
- Difficulty in performing complex activities
- Lack of words while communicating
- Loss of problem-solving skills
- Disorientation and confusion
When to See a Doctor?
You may not experience all the symptoms of dementia in the initial stage. Consult the doctor if:
- You experience psychological changes and have depression and anxiety.
- You get lost while driving.
- Your ability to solve logical problems reduces significantly.
- You keep forgetting things frequently.
- You feel difficulty in coordination.
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What are the Causes of Dementia?
Dementia is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Some of the causes of dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Parkinson’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Infection of brain
- Metabolic disorders
- Nutritional deficiency
- Medication side effects
What are the Risk Factors for Dementia?
Various factors increase the risk of dementia. Some factors include:
- Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disease, and heart disease
- Family history of dementia
- Sedentary lifestyles such as heavy alcohol drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, and unhealthy diet
What are the Treatment Options for Dementia?
Following are the options for managing dementia:
- Medications. Your doctor may prescribe various medications to manage the symptoms of dementia. These medications may include memantine, rivastigmine, galantine, and donepezil.
- Therapy: Therapies also help in assisting patients in performing daily tasks. It includes occupational therapy and making the task easier by breaking it into simpler steps.
What are the Complications of Dementia?
Dementia may result in the following complications:
- Unable to perform the basic tasks
- Safety challenges due to loss of concentration and confusion
How Can Dementia be Prevented?
There is no way by which you can completely prevent dementia. However, you may reduce the risk through the following measures:
- Avoiding smoking
- Managing underlying medical conditions
- Doing routine exercise
- Being socially active
- Following a healthy diet
- Avoiding vitamin deficiency
- Getting enough sleep
The brain processes the environmental information and stores it for future reference. This functional ability to encode, store, and retrieve information is known as memory. The memory may be short-term memory and long-term memory. The memory forms in the brain when neurons either create or change the connections while processing the information.
- Should I leave the patient with dementia alone?
Dementia has various stages. In the initial few stages, i.e., stage 1 and stage 2, the person shows only a few memory loss signs. However, as the stage of dementia progresses, the patient has difficulty completing daily activities. When dementia progresses to stage 4 or above, you should not allow them to go out of the house alone and always accompany them.
- Is dementia hereditary?
Dementia is hereditary in rare cases. Only some types of dementia are found to have a strong hereditary link. One cause of dementia, Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), may pass from generation to generation.
- Am I suffering from dementia if I frequently forget things?
Forgetting certain things, such as a person’s name or forgetting the place where you keep a particular thing, is common in everyday life and may not necessarily be an indication of dementia. Dementia generally involves memory loss, for example, if you lost your way while going to a nearby and familiar shop.