What is dementia and when to consult with a doctor

By ROZALIA HORVATH

Dementia is one of the most feared diseases, especially among older adults. The disease is progressive and irreversible. Dementia develops in the brain by damaged brain cells, and it could slowly deprive a person independent functioning.

Dementia is not part of normal aging! What is normal age-related memory loss?

We all forget things, but when we grow older, we tend to pay more attention to these lapses than in our younger years. If you occasionally misplace your car keys, do not remember someone’s name, or an appointment, you might be experiencing brain changes that come with aging. These changes, however, do not interfere with your everyday life; you will find your keys, remember names and appointments later when you do not even think of it anymore.

Dementia related

memory loss

Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a group of diseases that causes problems with thinking, memory, and reasoning. There are more than a dozen types of memory problems, some of the most widely known are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (60-80 % of dementia cases), and more than 5 million Americans live with it.

Risk factors for dementia

There are several risk factors that increase the chances of developing dementia. Some we cannot change such as age, family history, and genetics. Others are lifestyle habits and it is up to us to manage them, such as smoking and alcohol use, diet and exercise.

Talk to a doctor if you, someone in your family, or a friend is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

∫ communication and language difficulties,

∫ difficulty focusing and paying attention,

∫ a decline in personal hygiene and self-care skills,

∫ difficulty completing everyday tasks (dressing, bathing, preparing meals, etc.),

∫ lack of reasoning and judgment,

∫ confusion with time and place,

∫ losing things and unable to retrace steps,

∫ changes in mood and personality, and

∫ withdrawal from work, hobbies, sports or other social activities.

Why it is important

to visit a doctor

Early diagnosis gives greater opportunity to seek treatment or find underlying problems. There are medical conditions that could mimic dementia-like symptoms that may be treatable. These could be an emotional problem (stress, anxiety, depression), medication side effects, thyroid problems, long-time alcohol and drug use, blood clots or tumors in the brain, delirium, head injury, or vitamin deficiencies.

Stages of dementia

Doctors use the term “stages” to describe someone’s progress in dementia. In the first three stages, there is no sign of dementia only mild memory difficulties are present. The fourth stage is called the early stage, when people start to have trouble concentrating and remembering recent events. In stage five (moderately severe cognitive decline), there are major memory deficiencies. People in this stage require some assistance with daily living activities. In later stages, people experience a severe decline, they start to forget family members’ names, have very little memory of recent events, and lose the ability to speak or communicate.

For further information, please refer to the following resources and consult your medical provider:

https://www.alz.org or call 1-800-272-3900

https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/alzheimers-dementia#1

https://www.healthline.com/health/types-dementia

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046326

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-alzheimers-disease

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Rozalia Horvath is a Food, Families, and Health educator with Penn State Extension-Centre County. She can be reached at 814-355-4897 or ruh226@psu.edu.

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