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Coping with Dementia

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Things like forgetfulness, temporary confusion, difficulty remembering a name or word are a normal part of life. But when thinking problems or unusual behaviors start to interfere with daily activities such as working, preparing meals or checking your finances, it’s time to see a doctor. These can be signs of dementia, or what is commonly known as senile dementia.

Dementia is a brain disorder that usually affects older people. It is caused by the death or failure of nerve cells in the brain. According to some estimates, a third of people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. While age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, it is not a normal part of getting older. Some people can live well into their 90s without showing any signs of dementia.

Dementia itself is not actually a disease. Rather, it is a group of symptoms caused by different diseases. Symptoms of dementia can include problems with memory, thinking, language, but also reduced social skills and some behavioral symptoms.

Some factors increase your risk of developing dementia. These include aging, smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure and drinking too much alcohol. The risk is also increased if a close family member has dementia.

Dementia symptoms can be reversed when they are caused by dehydration or other treatable conditions. But most cases of dementia worsen over time and there is no cure. Scientists are looking for ways to slow down this process and even prevent it from starting.

The two most common causes of dementia in older people are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which is caused by changes in the brain’s blood supply. Vascular dementia is usually caused by atherosclerosis or stroke. Other causes of dementia include Parkinson’s disease, HIV, head injuries and Lewy body disease.

Coping with Dementia

In people under 60, dementia is usually caused by a group of brain disorders called frontotemporal disorders. This condition starts in the front or side parts of the brain and spreads gradually. A rare, inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease can occur in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

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The symptoms of dementia can vary depending on which parts of the brain are damaged. In general, the left side of the brain is involved in language, while the right side is involved in social behavior.

In the case of frontotemporal disorder, if the problem starts on the left side of the brain, language problems can worsen; if it starts on the right side, behavior can be affected and it can be confused with psychiatric disorders. Damage to certain areas of the brain can cause a person to become insensitive, unable to stop themselves or to care about the feelings of others.

In Alzheimer’s disease, memory-related areas in the front and back of the brain tend to be affected first. In other types of dementia, the areas that control movement may be affected.

The treatment of all these disorders is slightly different. It is therefore important to get the right diagnosis.

Since different types of dementia can have similar symptoms and some people may have more than one condition, it is worth seeing a doctor who specializes in dementia.

To diagnose, the doctor usually looks at the person’s medical history and performs a physical examination, including blood tests. Thinking, memory and language skills are also checked and sometimes brain scans may be performed. This assessment can determine whether the symptoms are caused by treatable conditions such as depression, infection or medication side effects.

Some types of dementia cannot be fully diagnosed until the brain is examined after death. There is no single blood test or brain scan that can fully diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or other sources of dementia in one go. In this case, the final diagnosis can only be made through an autopsy.

Coping with Dementia

A few decades ago, scientists discovered a method for detecting signs of Alzheimer’s disease in living people. All people with Alzheimer’s disease have abnormal protein masses called amyloid plaques. These plaques can be detected in positron emission tomography with special substances that bind to amyloid. However, some people with excessive plaque accumulation show no signs of dementia. Because of this uncertainty, amyloid imaging is not considered sufficient for a full diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Other techniques are being worked on, but none have yielded a complete and definitive result.

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A lot of research is currently underway into the pre-symptomatic stages of the disease, in which amyloid proteins can be detected before symptoms appear. Therefore, they are working on whether it is possible to prevent the accumulation of this amyloid protein with drugs. So far, there has been no significant improvement in symptoms after ridding the brain of this amyloid build-up.

Treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and some other forms of dementia are still being evaluated. Currently approved medicines can improve symptoms, but none can stop or reverse the damage to the brain.

However, if dementia is caused by vascular disease, there are many ways to prevent it from progressing. This is very similar to preventing cardiovascular problems. Some people with vascular dementia are given anti-coagulants. Others may be given medicines for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

A healthy lifestyle can help protect the ageing brain. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and avoiding smoking reduce risk factors for both heart disease and dementia. Being socially engaged and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities can also help maintain brain function. By making healthy choices, you can have a healthier brain.

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