When life?s challenges include memory loss or dementia, your perceptions, relationships, and priorities inevitably shift. However, certain types of dementia can be treated or reversed if caught in time. The first step is to understand what is and what isn’t normal memory loss, the causes of cognitive decline, and how to identify the different types of dementia. The more you understand about dementia, the more you can do to improve your outcome and preserve your sense of control.
Signs and symptoms of dementia
Dementia is a collection of symptoms including memory loss, personality change, and impaired intellectual functions resulting from disease or trauma to the brain. These changes are not part of normal aging and are severe enough to impact daily living, independence, and relationships. While Alzheimer?s disease is the most common type of dementia, there are also many other forms, including vascular and mixed dementia.
With dementia, there will likely be noticeable decline in communication, learning, remembering, and problem solving. These changes may occur quickly or very slowly over time.
The progression and outcome of dementia vary, but are largely determined by the type of dementia and which area of the brain is affected. Diagnosis is possible through advanced brain imaging, clinical examinations, and diagnostic testing.
Common signs and symptoms of dementia include:
Difficulties with abstract thinking
Loss of communication skills
Disorientation to time and place
Gait, motor, and balance problems
Neglect of personal care and safety
Hallucinations, paranoia, agitation
You might observe that a person with dementia:
repeatedly asks the same questions
becomes lost or disoriented in familiar places
is unable to follow directions
is disoriented as to the date or time of day
does not recognize and is confused about familiar people
has difficulty with routine tasks such as paying the bills
neglects personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition
Normal memory changes vs. dementia
The inevitable changes of aging can be both humbling and surprising. Skin wrinkles, hair fades, bodies chill, and muscle mass wanes. In addition, the brain shrinks, working memory goes on strike, and mental speed slows. But while many people do experience mild and gradual memory loss after age 40, severe and rapid memory loss is definitely not a part of normal aging. In fact, many people preserve their brainpower as they get older by staying mentally and physically active and making other healthy lifestyle choices.
The most common forms of mental decline associated with aging are:
Slower thinking and problem solving – The speed of learning slows down; short-term memory takes longer to function; reaction time increases.
Decreased attention and concentration – More distractedness. All of the interruptions make learning more difficult.
Slower recall – A greater need for hints to jog the memory.
What causes dementia and its symptoms?
In a healthy brain, mass and speed may decline in adulthood, but this miraculous machine continues to form vital connections throughout life. However, when connections are lost through inflammation, disease, or injury, neurons eventually die and dementia may result. The prospect of literally losing one’s self can be traumatic, but early intervention can dramatically alter the outcome. Understanding the causes of dementia is the first step.
In the past twenty years, scientists have greatly demystified the origins of dementia. Genetics may increase your risks, but scientists believe a combination of hereditary, environmental, and lifestyle factors are most likely at work.
10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer?s Disease
1. Memory loss sufficient to disrupt daily life – such as forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over, relying more and more on memory aides or family members.
2. Problem-solving difficulties – An inability to follow plans, work with numbers, follow recipes, or keep track of bills.
3. Trouble completing familiar daily tasks – Driving to a familiar location, remembering rules to a game, completing assignments at work.
4. Confusion over time or place – Losing track of dates and seasons, or forgetting where you are or how you got there.
5. Difficulty understanding visual images – Trouble reading, judging distances, colors, or contrast, or recognizing your own reflection.
6. Problems with spoken or written words – Difficulties following a conversation, finding the right word, or calling things by the wrong name.
7. Misplacing things – Putting things in unusual places, unable to retrace steps, accusing others of stealing.
8. Poor judgment – Decline in decision making, giving away large sums of money, paying less attention to personal grooming.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities – Trouble remembering how to complete a work project or favorite hobby, avoiding sports or social events.
10. Changes in mood – Becoming confused, depressed, suspicious, fearful, or anxious. Easily upset when out of comfort zone.
Dementia can be caused by:
Medical conditions that progressively attack brain cells and connections, most commonly seen in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or Huntington’s disease.
Medical conditions such as strokes that disrupt oxygen flow and rob the brain of vital nutrients. Additional strokes may be prevented by reducing high blood pressure, treating heart disease, and quitting smoking.
Poor nutrition, dehydration, and certain substances, including drugs and alcohol. Treating conditions such as insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, and vitamin deficiencies may reduce or eliminate symptoms of dementia.
Single trauma or repeated injuries to the brain. Depending on the location of the brain injury, cognitive skills and memory may be impaired.
Infection or illness that affects the central nervous system, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and HIV. Some conditions are treatable, including liver or kidney disease, depression-induced pseudo dementia, and operable brain tumors.
Source: Alzheimer’s Association