Health Library

Dementia

Definition

Dementia is a general loss of mental abilities. It can include a loss of ability to think, reason, learn, and understand. To be considered dementia, these mental losses must be severe enough to interfere with day-to-day activities. Dementia must also have:

  • Memory problems
  • Mental loss that is severe enough to cause problems with one or more of the following:
    • Language
    • Visuospatial function
    • Executive function (foresight, planning, anticipation, insight)
    • Praxis (learned motor skills)
Some Areas of the Brain Affected by Dementia
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Causes

Causes of dementia include:

Risk Factors

Increasing age is the most common factor that increases your chance of developing dementia. Other factors include:

Symptoms

Symptoms often begin mildly and get more severe over time. Symptoms vary according to the cause of the dementia, but often include:

  • Increasing trouble remembering things, such as:
    • How to get to familiar locations
    • What the names of family and friends are
    • Where common objects are usually kept
    • How to do simple math
    • How to do usual tasks, such as cooking, dressing, or bathing
    • How to drive
    • How to pay bills
  • Having difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Having difficulty completing sentences due to lost/forgotten words (may continue to a complete inability to speak)
  • Forgetting the date, time of day, season
  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Being withdrawn, losing interest in usual activities
  • Having mood swings
  • Having personality changes
  • Walking in a slow, shuffling way
  • Having poor coordination
  • Losing purposeful movement

Diagnosis

Your doctor may diagnose dementia through:

  • An extensive medical history from you and your family
  • Observing your behavior
  • A physical exam
  • Tests for your nervous system
  • Mental status and psychological tests

There are no blood tests or exams that can diagnose Alzheimer's disease. Certain types of brain imaging such as a SPECT or a PET scan may aid in a diagnosis. Tests to rule out other causes of dementia and other medical conditions that may mimic dementia include:

Imaging tests take pictures of internal body structures. These may include:

The doctor will also check to see if you have depression . It can often present like dementia.

Treatment

Currently, there are no treatments to cure many types of dementia. Some medication may help to decrease the symptoms of dementia or slow its course.

Medications

Two types of medications that may be used to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors
  • N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists

Treatments that are being studied include:

  • Gamma-secretase inhibitors.
  • Tau fiber aggregation inhibitors.
  • Herbs and supplements, such as vitamin E , ginkgo biloba , or huperzine A . Currently, evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of these natural remedies.

Lifestyle Management

This type of support is critical for people with dementia. Behavioral and environmental support includes:

  • Keeping you safe in your home
  • Providing a calm, quiet, predictable environment
  • Providing appropriate eyewear and hearing aids, easy-to-read clocks, and calendars
  • Participating in music therapy and/or dance therapy
  • Participating in physical and occupational therapy for daily activities
  • Encouraging light exercise to reduce agitation and relieve depression
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Discussing healthcare wishes with family members and doctors and appointing a healthcare proxy and a legal power of attorney

Psychiatric Medications

People with dementia often develop psychiatric symptoms. You may need appropriate treatment, such as:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antianxiety medications
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics

Caregiver Support

Caring for a person with dementia is very difficult. Those providing care will need support . The Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent resource for families and caregivers.

Prevention

While the exact cause of dementia is not known, these steps may help to reduce your risk:

  • Eat a healthy diet . This will help you to maintain good levels of vitamin B12 and cholesterol.
  • Exercise regularly . This can also enhance cardiovascular health, which may delay the onset of vascular dementia.
  • Alcohol may have some benefits if you use it in moderation. This means no more than two drinks per day for a man, and one drink per day for a woman. Moderate amounts of alcohol may decrease your risk of dementia. Higher amounts of alcohol however, can increase your risk of dementia.
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activity. This may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease .

Resources

Alzheimer's Association
http://www.alz.org

American Academy of Neurology
http://www.aan.com

Canadian Resources

Alzheimers Association of Canada
http://www.alzheimer.ca

Toronto Dementia Network
http://www.dementiatoronto.org

References

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Alzheimer's disease medications fact sheet. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet . Updated July 22, 2013. Accessed September 4, 2013.

Alzheimer's disease and non-Alzheimer’s dementia. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary . Updated August 22, 2013. Accessed September 4, 2013.

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Dementia evaluation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated August 14, 2013. Accessed September 4, 2013.

American Academy of Neurology website. Available at: http://patients.aan.com/disorders/index.cfm?event=viewampdisorder%5Fid=844 . Accessed August 22, 2012.

Gidoni R, et al. Cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease: the present and the future. Neurodegen Dis. 2011;8:413-20.

Kaduszkiewicz H, Zimmermann T, Beck-Bornholdt HP, van den Bussche H. Cholinesterase inhibitors for patients with Alzheimer's disease: systematic review of randomized clinical trials. BMJ. 2005;331:321-327.

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Obrien JT, et al. Dopamine transporter loss visualized with FP-CIT SPECT in the differential diagnosis of dementia with Lewy Bodies. Arch Neurol . 2004; 61: 919-925.

Schneider L, Dagerman K, Insel P. Risk of death with atypical antipsychotic drug treatment for dementia: meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. JAMA. 2005;294:1934-1943.

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