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What is Dementia

What is dementia?

Everybody forgets things from time to time.  As we get older, we all tend to get more forgetful. In dementia this process becomes accelerated and more severe. Dementia is a disease of the brain. It starts with memory problems and progresses to other difficulties. About one in every 20 over 65-year-olds has dementia.


What causes dementia?

There are various causes of Dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. This is caused by damaged tissue and reduction of certain chemicals in the brain. It can sometimes run in families. In another type of dementia the arteries supplying blood to the brain become blocked thus starving the brain of much needed oxygen. Besides these, there are other not so common causes of dementia.


What are the symptoms of dementia?

Some of the features of dementia are as follows:

  • Forgetting the names of people or places and finding the right word for objects.
  • Forgetting what happened earlier in the day, not being able to recall conversations and being repetitive
  • Difficulties with common everyday tasks like cooking, changing clothes etc
  • Difficulty in understanding and communicating with others.
  • Getting lost easily, even in familiar places
  • Change in personality, so the person behaves or reacts differently to how they did before they became ill.
  • Changes in behaviour, including wandering and personal neglect.
  • Unexplainable changes in mood
  • Physical health problems may develop and a person can often become bedridden and incontinent.


How is dementia diagnosed?

There is no single specific test that can show whether someone has dementia. A diagnosis is made by talking to the person and a close relative or friend to get an understanding of the person’s history, as well considering all other possible causes of the symptoms. The doctor will also do a simple memory test, a physical examination and order blood tests. He might arrange a brain scan if needed.


Can dementia be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for most types of dementias. However, there is a group of drugs which may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. Also, the doctor will be able to prescribe other medications which will help with sleep, mood and also reduce behavioural problems like irritability and aggression.  In vascular dementia, a small dose of aspirin may help to prevent further strokes. Medication may be prescribed to control high blood pressure or raised cholesterol. It is also important to stop smoking, eat healthily and take exercise.


What can the person with dementia do to help himself?

Some simple practical steps can be taken to help with memory problems. These include making lists of things to do, keeping your mind active by reading or doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other mind exercises. Making sure that clothing, keys, glasses or other things that are used often are put in prominent places where they can be found easily may also be helpful. Labelling of commonly used objects may be another useful tool. Try to get regular physical exercise and eat a healthy diet. One will need to plan for the future. One might want to make appropriate arrangements including written instructions for times when you are unable to make decisions.


Can dementia be prevented?

It is not clear what can be done to prevent dementia itself but the evidence does indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle may help protect against dementia. In particular, exercising regularly, avoiding fatty foods, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and keeping mentally and socially active into old age may help to reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.




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