Symptoms and Stages of Dementia
Dementia is a mental health problem that usually afflicts the old, however, in rare cases certain forms of dementia may affect a young person. More typically, the young are affected by the dementia of a parent, whose care will become their responsibility. When this occurs, it is important to understand the disease; both its causes and treatments.
What is Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term that covers Alzheimer's disease, as well as a variety of other dementing illnesses. The dementias are differentiated by their presumed cause, which include:
- Alzheimer's Type
- Vascular Dementia
- Dementia Due to Other General Medical Conditions (e.g., HIV, head trauma, Parkinson's, Huntington's)
- Substance-Induced Persisting Dementia
- Dementia Due to Multiple Etiologies
Dementia is a progressive and degenerative disorder of the brain characterized by multiple cognitive deficits that include impairment in memory. In the early stages, it can manifest as absentmindedness or forgetfulness. The patient may forget names, or where they left their keys. Since most people occasionally forget things, these early symptoms can go unnoticed, however, they will become more frequent and more severe, eventually developing into other symptoms of dementia.
As the disease progresses, patients will slowly become unable to care for themselves. At first they may need only occasional care and supervision, but eventually they will need to be cared for and supervised at all times.
Dementia usually only affects people over 65 years of age. Less than two per cent of people between 65 and 69 years of age suffer from dementia, five per cent between 75 and 79 years old, 20% of people between 85 and 89, and about one in three, or 33% of people over the age of 90 suffer from moderate or severe dementia.
Stages of Dementia
While the progression of dementia symptoms will vary from patient to patient, there is a general pattern that the disease follows. Not all dementia sufferers will experience all of these symptoms, but this is a good general guide to how the disease progresses:
Early Symptoms of Dementia
Early indications that someone may be suffering from the onset of dementia include:
- Difficulty with regular tasks - Everyone is absentminded from time to time, but people suffering from dementia will begin to have trouble even with tasks they've been doing for most of their lives with no problems, such as cooking or driving.
- Forgetfulness at work, having negative consequences, such as frequently forgetting appointments, or deadlines.
- Becoming apathetic, losing the ability, or desire, to take initiative on tasks, or take part in hobbies and activities.
- Problems remembering familiar locations, such as where the patient lives, or what year it is.
- Problems with abstract thinking, which is the ability to make and understand generalizations. Could lead to difficulty handling money.
- Trouble remembering simple words; often dementia sufferers will substitute inappropriate words without realizing, making them difficult to understand.
- Sudden mood swings with no obvious causes. Changes in personality and increased irritability are also possible.
- Dementia sufferers will experience diminished judgment, often doing or saying completely inappropriate things.
- Losing things and blaming others for "stealing" from them
During this phase, the dementia symptoms will likely become more obvious. They may include:
- Forgetting recent events, becoming confused about times and places, remembering events from the past as though they are the present.
- Forgetting names and faces, confusing family members with each other.
- Becoming lost, wandering outdoors, often at inappropriate times or in inappropriate clothing.
- Forgetting to eat, or maintain proper hygiene
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Getting frustrated and becoming upset or angry.
This is the final stage of dementia, patients will likely be unable to care for themselves and need round the clock care. Symptoms may include:
- Uncontrollable movements
- Failure to recognize even objects that we use every day
- Restlessness, inability to sleep
- Symptoms worsen at night
- No longer recognize family or friends; may search for long-dead relatives.
- Need help using the toilet, washing or getting dressed.
- Difficulty walking and getting around
- Become aggressive and easily threatened
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent the onset of dementia, however, experts agree that staying active in a variety of activities could help to keep the mind sharp and memory loss at bay. Leisure activities such as playing a musical instrument, dancing, knitting, reading or playing board games are all thought to help ward off dementia, so setting out to find a piano teacher could be beneficial.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to ensure that the body gets all of the nutrients it needs on a daily basis is also thought to be helpful in the battle against memory loss. Taking Sage oil and vitamin E might also be helpful, but be sure to discuss any natural remedies with your doctor before you start using them.
Treatments for Dementia
Presently, there is no cure for dementia. It is possible to treat some early memory loss with medications, as well as depression that may result from a diagnosis, however, there is nothing that can be done to halt the progression of the disease.
The key to dealing with dementia is high-quality, comprehensive care that will help the patient feel more comfortable and safe. Helping dementia sufferers maintain their sense of individuality can also be beneficial.
There is hope that a cure for dementia will be found soon. Stem cell research is offering some glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, as well as research into new drugs and other therapies.