Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that generally come with increasing age, ranging from basic memory loss to personality changes and altered intellectual functions. While some amount of memory loss is a normal part of aging, dementia is severe enough to impact independence, daily living and relationships. Alzheimer’s disease is the most well known form of dementia, but there are also other types, including vascular and mixed dementia. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or early dementia involves simple problems with memory, function and language. Those suffering from MCI can still benefit from some early intervention, but unlike full blown dementia, they are still able to function daily.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all cases. Early diagnosis is important for Alzheimer’s sufferers, as medication can delay the worst of the symptoms. Vascular dementia results from a series of strokes or other changes to the brain’s blood supply. Vascular dementia is characterized by severely impacted memory and cognitive functioning, and a sudden onset of these symptoms may be it’s main indicator, although early intervention can lessen the severity of the symptoms. Mixed dementia occurs with the simultaneous onset of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It occurs most commonly in seniors of advanced age and symptoms often get worse over time. Less common types of dementia include those that affect the central nervous system, such as Pick’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The first signs of dementia involve a decline in memory, learning, communication and problem solving. The progress of dementia varies, but is largely determined by the type involved as well as the area of the brain affected. The changes may occur quickly or more gradually depending on the individual. A senior who is aging normally might have trouble remembering directions, but one suffering from dementia will get lost in familiar places. A dementia sufferer will also have a noticeable decline in memory and usually be unable to recall events that happened very recently. Loss on interest in social activities is also common, as is reacting inappropriately in social situations.

There is always some amount of decline in mass and speed as a normal brain ages, however it is still able to recall much and continue to form connections. Dementia is caused when connections are lost and neurons die through inflammation, injury or disease. Although it is commonly believed that heredity plays the largest part in whether or not dementia will occur, researchers have determined that the true culprit is likely a combination of genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors.

There are multiple causes of dementia. Certain medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s disease attach brain cells and connections, while strokes caused by heart disease, smoking and high blood pressure rob the brain of vital nutrients and disrupt blood flow. Poor diet, alcohol intake, dehydration and vitamin deficiencies are also factors for dementia. Trauma or repeated brain injuries can impair cognitive skills and memory, leading to possible dementia. It is now thought that mental stimulation, good health habits and some basic lifestyle changes can either prevent or delay dementia. Research suggests that consistent exercise, healthy diet, regular sleep, mind challenges and avoidance of smoking and drinking can be significant in keeping the brain healthy and whole. In almost every case, early intervention is required for the best chance of successful management.

If you or someone you love has signs or symptoms of dementia, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor right away for a full evaluation. Timely intervention can help control or even eliminate the symptoms. The earlier you are seen by a specialist, the earlier you can obtain lifestyle adjustments, risk factors and correctly assess any worsening symptoms. Visit us at Ashford Assisted Living and Memory Care and we can answer your questions as well as discuss your many options for treatment.

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