The category of dementia includes not only Alzheimer’s disease but also Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia. Dementia is not an inevitable result of aging, but it does occur in a certain percentage of the elderly population. The symptoms are caused by damage to the nerve cells in the brain.
It is a progressive condition that gradually worsens over time. Some risks for dementia can’t be controlled, such as age, family history, and genetic factors. Other risks can help to reduce risks, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, stopping smoking, limiting alcohol, and managing medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea.
Because of the growing numbers of aging individuals in society, dementia has become a growing medical problem. In this condition, an individual gradually develops cognitive deficits that affect their ability to manage daily life independently. The symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. If you have a loved one that has developed memory problems, here are some signs that could indicate the need for a visit to the doctor for proper testing and diagnosis.
Although everyone experiences a lapse in memory at times, in dementia, the inability to remember becomes more frequent, more severe, and extends to even the most familiar of activities. Eventually, the memory loss begins to impact daily life. Individuals may lose items frequently. They may forget the names of people they know. They may be unable to recognize family or friends. They may substitute a random word for the right word. They may get lost in their own home or get lost when outside the home. They may forget core beliefs or qualities of their own identity.
Dementia causes a growing problem with finding the right words, which can be quite frustrating for the individual. This inability makes the conversation more difficult for them. Gradually, speech dwindles to just a few words. Individuals may also have difficulty with the meanings of words they hear, and so may find it difficult to respond.
Tasks that require performing a number of steps become difficult for individuals with dementia. Making a sandwich or cup of tea may involve more actions than they can put together. They might develop problems with self-grooming. Dressing can be particularly problematic, as the individual forgets how items go on the body. Performing simple tasks may get more difficult as the day goes on and the individual tires.
An individual with dementia may become unable to recognize their home surroundings or other familiar places. This causes disorientation, which can be very distressing for them. They may be unable to find their way back from the bathroom or not be able to get back home after being out of the house, because they cannot recognize the normal cues that tell them where they are, nor can they remember why they are there.
Focusing attention on tasks at hand can be very difficult for individuals with dementia. The more complex the task, the greater the need to perform separate steps to get the required outcome, and this ability gradually lessens over time.
Dementia can also cause poor coordination, with individuals developing a shuffling gait or having problems with balance. They may lean frequently or have reduced strength in their legs.
Although everyone has moods that change from day to day, individuals with dementia experience more rapid mood changes, which may become intense late in the day. Some individuals may experience a phenomenon known as "sundowning.” Also known as "late-day confusion,” the individual may become more anxious as the evening hours approach. They may become anxious, confused, or even aggressive. They may not follow directions or may begin to pace. Some individuals tend to wander away from the home.
Individuals with dementia may have noticeable changes in their personalities. They may become more aggressive or belligerent at times. Some individuals become very fearful and agitated. Some individuals become apathetic or impulsive. They may develop a compulsion to perform some action repeatedly. Their speech or actions may become very uninhibited and unacceptable. When they lose items due to their poor memory, they may accuse others of stealing from them, which is a type of delusion.
Decision-making becomes problematic for individuals with dementia. They may have more difficulty reasoning, which requires going through a number of mental steps to get to a conclusion. They may not distinguish reality from dreams very well. These issues cause them to be very poor at decision-making, and they require someone to make good decisions on their behalf.
Dementia may cause an individual to blurt out inappropriate remarks or make explicit sexual comments. This occurs because the normal mental filters that restrain people from social interactions are not functioning properly.
Some individuals with dementia will begin to withdraw from social interactions, because they cannot keep up with conversations or cannot contribute words easily, in the normal back-and-forth involved in conversing. They may not remember recent conversations that help to maintain connections between individuals.
The individual may be aware of these changes and may try to hide them or explain them away. However, symptoms will gradually worsen, making them impossible to hide. Early treatment can help, so if you have a loved one that is exhibiting symptoms of dementia, encourage them to see the doctor for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate medications.