It’s easy to forget things as we get older. Many elderly people have slight memory loss that does not affect their daily lives. But memory loss that gets worse may mean that you have dementia. Dementia makes it hard for people to remember, learn, and communicate. It may cause changes in mood and personality, such as depression. However dementia is not a disease.
Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating. It often occurs in older people. But this doesn’t mean that everyone will get it.
However, it is not related to normal aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Usually dementia gets worse over time. How long this takes is different for each person. Some people stay the same for years. Others lose skills quickly.
What causes dementia?
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. A brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s, could trigger dementia. A brain tumor, head injury, or stroke could also cause it. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected.
In some people, depression can cause memory loss that seems like dementia. In a few cases, dementia is caused by a problem such as not getting enough vitamin B12, and fluid buildup in the brain. When these cases occurs, treating the problem may help the dementia.
As you age, medicines may affect you more. Taking some medicines together may cause symptoms that mimic dementia. Be sure your doctor knows about all of the medicines you take. This means all prescription medicines and all over-the-counter medicines and natural health products.
What are the differences between normal aging and dementia?
When you’re in your 20s to 30s, you begin to lose brain cells a few at a time. Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work. The older you are, the more these changes affect your memory. Your brain begins to store information differently. This makes it harder to recall information.
In normal aging, your short and long-term memories are less affected by aging. But your recent memory is more affected. E.g. you may forget what you ate for breakfast or where you set your keys. Also, in normal aging, memory loss doesn’t get much worse over time.
Whiles in dementia, memory problem is serious. It affects your daily life. Dementia worsens a lot over several months or years. Memory problems that aren’t part of normal aging include:
However, it may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of dementia may appear over time or all at once. Usually the first symptom is memory loss. Often the person who has a memory problem doesn’t notice it, but family and friends do. If you have this and two or more symptoms listed below, you may have dementia.
- Forgetting how to do things you’ve done many times before.
- Trouble learning new things.
- Repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation.
- Trouble making choices or handling money.
- Not being able to keep track of what happens each day.
- Have more trouble doing things that take planning such as making a list and going shopping.
- You may have trouble using or understanding words.
- You may get lost in places you know well.
- They may become scared and childlike.
- They may stop brushing their teeth or bathing.
- Cannot take care of themselves.
- They may not know where they are.
- May not know their loved ones when they see them.
How is dementia diagnosed?
There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on;
- A careful medical history
- Ask you to do some simple things that test your memory and other mental skills. Your doctor may ask you to tell what day and year it is, repeat a series of words, or draw a clock face.
- Physical examination,
- Laboratory tests
Are there any treatments available?
Some causes of dementia can be treated. There are medicines you can take for dementia. They cannot cure it, but they can slow it down for a while and make it easier to live with.
When there’s no treatment for the cause, the focus of care is on helping the person with their daily activities and reducing symptoms. Your family doctor will talk with you about treatment options.
As dementia gets worse, a person may get depressed or angry and upset. An active social life, counselling, and sometimes medicine may help with changing emotions.
How can you help a loved one who has dementia?
There are many things you can do to help your loved one be safe at home. For example, get rid of throw rugs, and put handrails in washrooms to help prevent falls. Post reminder notes around the house. Put a list of important phone numbers by the telephone. You also can help your loved one stay active. Play cards or board games, and also take walks.
People who have dementia may become agitated for various reasons. This can be due to frustrating, stressful situations or a sudden change in surroundings. Simple things such as dressing or not remembering can lead to frustration. It is possible that a person who is irritable may try to hurt themselves or others.
Try to avoid things or places in which your loved one might become frustrated. Try to make your loved one’s tasks less difficult. You also can try to limit the number of difficult situations your loved one must face. It’s helpful to give frequent reassurance and avoid challenging them.
How can you prevent it?
There is little you can do to prevent or avoid dementia. If you have a head injury or brain tumor, ask your doctor if there are lifestyle changes you can make. You will want to take precautions to avoid additional head trauma or concussions.
If you are at risk of stroke, there are things you can do to reduce your chances. Stay at a healthy weight, exercise, and also keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at normal levels. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range. If you smoke, cut back and also try to quit.