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What is Dementia?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Dementia is a combination of several symptoms that are associated with the declining abilities of the brain and its functions. There may be a decline in thinking, memory, cognition, language skills, understanding and judgement.

Over time people with dementia worsen and may have problems controlling their emotions or behaviour. They may need the help of their family, friends or caregivers in making decisions. They may eventually become apathetic to their surroundings. The cause of dementia lies in the damage to the structure of the brain.

Dementia epidemiology

Dementia is a common condition. In England there are 570,000 people living with dementia. With the rise of the elderly population and increase in life expectancy the number of people with dementia is predicted to rise over the next three decades.

Usually dementia occurs in people who are 65 or over. It is rarely diagnosed in the under 40s. By the age of 80 about one in five are affected, and 1 in 3 people in the UK will have dementia by the time they die. Dementia is slightly more common in women than in men.

Types of dementia

Dementia may be of 100 different types. Some of them include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is where small clumps of protein, known as plaques, begin to develop around brain cells. This may lead to severe loss of memory over time.
  • Another type is vascular dementia where there are problems in the blood supply to the brain. The brain does not receive adequate oxygen.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies is another form of dementia where small abnormal structures, known as Lewy bodies, develop inside the brain.
  • Frontotemporal dementia is said to occur when frontal and temporal lobes (two parts of the brain) start shrinking. This may occur in individuals under 65 years of age. It is much rarer than other types of dementia.

Dementia and other disorders

Sometimes dementia may be accompanied by other mental disorders like mood swings, anxiety and depression and confusion.

Many other illnesses can cause dementia. These may include viral infections such as HIV, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, chronic heavy alcohol intake, Huntington's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy and normal pressure hydrocephalus, Multiple sclerosis and Motor neurone disease.

Prognosis or outlook of dementia

There is no cure for dementia. In most patients the symptoms worsen over time.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 2, 2013

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Comments
  1. Abrar Ahmad Abrar Ahmad Islamic Republic of Pakistan says:

    Let me briefly tell you that there are multiple forms of dementia - alzheimer’s disease being the most common one that accounts for 40 to 75% of dementia cases and is the sixth leading cause of death in United States. Additionally, dementia and its types have common signs with some variations. Let’s start with the most common signs of dementia most commonly seen in patients at the early stages of the disease. They start experiencing subtle memory loss, mood instability such as immediate occurrences of maniac (laugh) and depression (sadness) episodes, and have trouble with listening and explaining things to other people, communicational obstructions to be exact. They also segregate their selves from social gatherings and unions, face difficulty in performing daily chores and also experience muscle impairment. Additionally, some people fail to converse with other people because they fail to keep up the pace and comparatively take longer to process the coming words and repeat the same question over and over again. Most of the cases showed that, dementia patients start segregating their selves and start living alone because they could not keep up with the lives of normal people. They just are not up for the adaptation to change. In one of the form of dementia, which is Lewy Body dementia, probable signs appear to be sleeplessness. Patients experience insomnia which leads to mood swings. It has been seen that they fail to keep tracks of roads and lose their tracking skills as well. In case of Alzheimer’s, a patient the most common signs are memory loss and forgetfulness. In some cases, it has been observed that people with Alzheimer’s segregate their selves from others. Additionally, they experience complete memory loss and trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, lack the judgement skill and a complete withdrawal from work or social activities. One most commonly observed is the forgetfulness and inability to retrace steps. There is another type of dementia called Parkinson’s characterized as uncontrollable movement of body parts such a shaking limbs and fingers. It has been observed that patients experience writing and speech changes, their ability to respond fails badly and they lose posture and balance. One of the common sign is bradykinesia characterized as slow body movement. One thing to keep in mind before labelling someone as a dementia patient is that forgetfulness and memory loss do no really mean a person has dementia because memory loss and forgetfulness are a normal parts of aging. But if any severity has been observed in these signs, a patient definitely requires a professional advice and consultation. There is no cookie approach to cure dementia but if you observe such changings or signs in your loved ones do not take it for granted before it gets too late.
    Reference: http://bit.ly/2e5hYgU

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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