Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive and behavioral functioning that interferes with a person’s daily life and activities as defined by the National Institute on Aging. There are many different conditions and diseases that cause dementia. The most common cause in older people is Alzheimer’s disease which interferes with memory and in the later stages advances to difficulty with communication, swallowing/eating and walking.
Other types of dementias include vascular, Lewy Body, frontotemporal disorders and Parkinson’s. Vascular dementia can be caused by strokes or cardiovascular disease. Lewy Body dementia is caused by abnormal deposits of protein, commonly referred to as Lewy bodies, that can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood. Frontotemporal disorders are characterized by trouble focusing, planning, solving problems, comprehending information and personality changes. Memory is not usually the first thing to decline with frontotemporal dementia. Dementia caused by Parkinson’s often results in a decline in motor functioning more than cognitive functioning. Dementia symptoms can also result from infections, nutritional deficiencies and anoxia, when the brain does not get enough oxygen, but usually these can be reversed with treatment.
As you can see, dementia is quite a complicated term. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of dementia, start by consulting your primary care doctor and then a neurologist if needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from either a relative, friend or home care agency. The Alzheimer’s Association is a wonderful resource for information and support and is available 24/7 through their helpline: 800-272-3900. Research is currently being done on lowering the risk of dementia. There are several studies that suggest that diet and exercise may help lower the risk of certain types of dementia. Although it can be scary to experience symptoms of dementia, there are many resources to help you or a loved one get the help you need.
Roslyn Paine, MSW, LSW
DignityFirst Health at Home Care Manager