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What is Dementia and How is it Treated?

What is Dementia and How is it Treated?

What is Dementia and How is it Treated?

Friday August 20, 2021

As we age, some decline in memory is a normal part of physiological changes that occur. For instance, maybe you forget an acquaintance’s name, but it later comes back to you. This is typical age-related memory loss, and is not a concern because at some point you not only remember the name, but also remembered that you had forgot the name in the first place. This is the same as walking into a room to get something, forgetting why you were there, but later on remembering why.

But for some, memory loss is a sign of a more serious issue and may indicate dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of diseases that cause cognitive decline. The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as “a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.” Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly known disease causing dementia, but there are others as well, including Lewy body, vascular and fronto-temporal dementias. By 2060, it is estimated that nearly 14 million Americans age 65 and older will be living with some form of dementia (CDC).

Dementia typically advances in three stages:

  • Early stage. Patients may exhibit mild symptoms of forgetfulness and difficulty with routine tasks, but otherwise be able to function normally for some time.
  • Middle stage. Emotional and behavioral changes may start to emerge. There is increased forgetfulness and patients may start to wander. They also may need assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing and remembering to take medication.
  • Late stage. Severe loss of memory, including being unable to recognize familiar faces. Patients will need assistance when walking and may have lost the ability to walk altogether. They are unable to independently perform any activities of daily living.

Are there risk factors for dementia?

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Although dementia most commonly appears in those 65 and older, it is not a normal part of aging. While there is no known cause of dementia, age is considered a risk factor as dementia mostly occurs in the elderly. There are also some additional factors that may indicate an increased risk of developing dementia, including:

  • Family history and genetics. Those with a close relative – parent, sibling, or grandparent – who had dementia are at an increased risk of developing dementia themselves.
  • Heart disease. Those with heart conditions, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are thought to also be at an increased risk. This may have to do with impaired blood circulation to the brain.
  • Traumatic brain injuries.

How is dementia diagnosed?

Diagnosing dementia is often not straightforward. Physicians will use a number of tests that gauge memory, problem solving, and attention to determine cognitive functioning. Additionally, they may order other screening measures, such as blood tests, MRI’s or CAT scans to rule out any underlying diseases that may be causing dementia-like symptoms.

Even if dementia is diagnosed, it may not be possible to determine the type. A team of specialists, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists, may be able to provide a more definitive diagnosis than a primary care physician.

How is dementia treated?

Although there are drugs that are thought to slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure for dementia. A physician can best determine which medications might work best, depending on how far advanced the dementia is. iStock-508425439.jpg

Behavioral techniques can also be employed by caregivers. These techniques can help reduce negative behaviors in the dementia patient. Consider:

  • Making sure the patient is comfortable.
  • Keeping the patient in a calm, relaxed environment.
  • Meeting the patient where they are. Don’t argue if they talk about going to work or think a deceased loved one is still alive. This can cause agitation and other aggressive behaviors. Agree with them and then gently try to redirect their attention to something else.  

Finding a program that specializes in helping those with memory impairment and their loved ones can also provide much needed support as the disease progresses.  

Can I prevent dementia?

The best way to lower risk of dementia is to live a healthy lifestyle, including:

  • Staying active. Regular exercise keeps your circulatory system healthy, which can lower the risk of developing dementia. If you are thinking of beginning an exercise routine, speak with your doctor first to determine the healthiest option for you.
  • Eating well.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Maintaining social connections. It is thought that those with little social interaction are at higher risk for developing dementia. Reach out to friends and family through phone call, email
  • Being engaged. Keep your mind active – volunteer, take a class in a topic that interests you, puzzles and word games are all thought to promote brain health as one ages.

Living with a diagnosis of dementia or concerned about an older loved one? For more information, please call 215.371.3400 to speak with a senior care manager 24 hours a day, seven days a week.