WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

Dementia comes from the Latin word which means without mind and does not mean the person is crazy. It is a disease where many thinking and mental functions are disrupted. One of the first signs is memory loss. The symptoms come on gradually and often either go unnoticed or are just attributed to the forgetfulness that is a part of growing older. Eventually, the condition affects your judgment and your ability to plan. The disease usually progresses as gradually as it began, but in some cases it progresses rapidly. Like many other medical conditions you are unique and the rate at which the disease develops depends on your individual case. An estimated 15% of the over 65 population in the United States have some form of dementia.

Later, as the condition develops, the most basic mental and physical functions become difficult to perform. The ability to think critically and to make sound judgments is affected which is one reason it is dangerous for an individual with dementia to drive. Performing complex multi-step tasks may become impossible. An individual with dementia may eventually be unable to recognize friends or members of the family.

The three most common diseases that cause dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, strokes called vascular dementia, and Lewy body disease. Frequently, more than one of these diseases is present.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is predicted that Alzheimers will affect more than 12 million Americans over the next 20 years. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 40 percent to 45 percent of all cases of dementia. Besides the memory loss associated with dementia, an Alzheimer’s patient may develop behavior changes. It is not surprising that both Alzheimer’s and dementia have an impact on language abilities. Connecting the name to an object often becomes a problem. You may notice word repetition. Often the same questions or stories are repeated again and again sometimes within a few minutes time. Fine motor tasks become difficult to perform. Coordination declines and feeding oneself or getting dressed may require assistance.

Vascular dementia results from the blood vessels in the brain contracting and narrowing. Frequent repeated mini-strokes cause cell damage. Mental performance is stable for a long period and then declines quickly. There may be short periods of weakness in the limbs or facial muscles commonly affecting one side of the body or temporary vision loss. This form of dementia shares the same risk factors as having a stroke. Age, usually over 65, is a factor. High blood pressure or hypertension puts you at risk. Cigarette smoking adds to the risk. Heart disease and Diabetes both increase the risk of developing this form of dementia.

Lewy body disease has been discovered to cause dementia in the past decade.

Lewy bodies are debris in the brain left as nerve cells degenerate. The buildup of dead nerve cells interferes with brain function. Symptoms of Lewy body disease are similar to those of Alzheimer’s. Speech and awareness may not be as affected as in other forms of dementia. However, your ease and speed of movement may decline. Frequent hallucinations may occur. The length of the illness varies, but mental function declines steadily over a period of years.

At this time, dementia is incurable. It may last anywhere from 4 to 15 years depending on the individual. This is why it is so important for you to take preventative steps to avoid developing the disease.

Other conditions that may cause dementia include:

  • Traumatic head injury.
  • AIDS.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Brain abscess.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
  • Degenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s disease and Pick’s disease.
  • More than 50 other rare degenerative conditions.

Taken all together, these causes account for less than 20 percent of all cases of dementia. Some conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, are extremely rare.

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