Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affects memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with your daily life. Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. Having memory loss alone doesn’t mean you have dementia, although it’s often one of the early signs of the condition.
Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. The condition has physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia but also for their carers, families, and society at large.
Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature that leads to deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological aging. It affects thinking, memory, comprehension, orientation, calculation, language, learning capacity, and judgment.
Dementia affects each person differently, depending upon the underlying causes, other health conditions, and the person’s cognitive functioning before becoming ill. The signs and symptoms can be understood in three stages.
Early stage: Dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms may include:
Middle stage: The signs and symptoms become clearer and may include:
Late stage: The late stage of dementia is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious and may include:
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior, and feelings can be affected. The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions. When cells in a particular region are damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally.
Usually, dementia goes through these stages. But it may vary depending on the area of the brain that’s affected.
1. No impairment. Someone at this stage will show no symptoms, but tests may reveal a problem.
2. Very mild decline. You may notice slight changes in behavior, but still independent.
3. Mild decline. You’ll notice more changes in their thinking and reasoning. They may have trouble making plans and may repeat themselves a lot. They may also have a hard time remembering recent events.
4. Moderate decline. They’ll have more problems with making plans and remembering recent events.
5. Moderately severe decline. They may not remember their phone number or their grandchildren’s names. They may be confused about the time of day or day of the week. At this point, they’ll need assistance with some basic day-to-day functions.
6. Severe decline. They’ll begin to forget the name of their spouse. They’ll need help going to the restroom and eating. You may also see changes in their personality and emotions.
7. Very severe decline. They can no longer speak their thoughts. They can’t walk and will spend most of their time in bed.
To treat dementia, doctors will treat whatever is causing it. If the cause of a person’s dementia is not reversible, treatment will focus on managing symptoms, particularly agitation and other emotional concerns.
If your loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, their doctor may prescribe this monthly infusion. It’s a monoclonal antibody that lessens the build-up of things called amyloid plaques in your brain. These plaques are part of what leads to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Medicines such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can sometimes help to slow the progression of cognitive changes, but quite often the effects of medicines are only modest and cannot prevent the eventual worsening of the underlying condition.