Dementia is a word that has crept into our everyday vocabulary, but oftentimes it is misused. For instance, we may find ourselves in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly lose our train of thought, or be unable to remember a person’s name. We immediately jump to the conclusion that we are starting to suffer from dementia. However, with all the stress in today’s world, these events could merely be the result of information overload or too much stimulation. Therefore, it is important to understand what dementia is so that the appropriate steps can be taken to address it.
What is dementia?
Dementia, in and of itself, is not a disease. It is a term loosely used to refer to a decline in cognitive functioning—memory, critical thinking, or problem-solving. If the impairment is significant enough to limit your ability to function day to day, then you may be experiencing signs of dementia.
Dementia is not a necessary outgrowth of aging, as is often thought. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and approximately 60-80 percent of patients with dementia are suffering from Alzheimer’s. Another category of dementia occurs after a stroke, known as Vascular Dementia.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia symptoms vary from person to person, but to be considered truly dementia, and not some other cognitive interference, at least two of the following outcomes must be present in a significant and constant way:
• Impaired visual perception
• Loss of memory
• Inability to judge and analyze situations
• Problem with communicating and using language
• Unable to focus and give attention to what is before you
Dementia progresses. Usually it begins with small memory losses, such as where you left your keys, or what you were thinking of preparing for dinner. It could be more serious, such as forgetting appointments, paying your bills or the directions to a frequent location. At this stage, an early diagnosis could prevent further deterioration, as well as discover a treatable disease that might be causing the dementia symptoms.
What causes dementia?
Dementia results when there is damage to the brain cells resulting in their inability to communicate. The brain is separated into regions, each one controlling certain physical and cognitive functions. Cells are constantly sending signals to each other, resulting in smooth functioning of the brain and body. When there is an impairment to the cells’ ability to transmit signals, thinking, memory, bodily functions or emotions can be impacted. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, causes an overproduction of certain proteins, which damage the cells’ ability to communicate, thus resulting in the dementia.
How is dementia diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is not a single test that can be administered to diagnose the presence of dementia. A qualified physician will assess your family medical history, order laboratory tests, conduct a thorough physical exam and analyze your symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis of the type and severity of the dementia.
What can you do if you have been diagnosed with dementia?
Some dementia is treatable and even reversible, depending upon its cause. This is why early diagnosis is so important. Alzheimer’s dementia, however, is not reversible and to date, there are no medicines or treatments that can slow its progression. Significant medical research is ongoing to discover new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other serious dementias.
Can you lower your risk of developing dementia or prevent its onset?
There are some steps you can take to lower your risk of developing dementia, although nothing can completely negate particular risk factors that you may be carrying.
1. Exercise. Exercise causes increased blood flow to the brain which maintains brain cell health.
2. Cardiovascular health. Protect your cardiovascular system by not smoking, keeping your cholesterol level low and watching your weight.
3. Diet. Brain health is also impacted by what you eat. A diet low in fats and proteins, and high in fish, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fruits, such as the Mediterranean diet, has proven to keep your brain and heart healthy.