The Therapy Room: Defining dementia part 1

Posted on 15 March 2018 by LeslieM

(Part one of a three part series) Dementia means “deprived of mind” and has been described in older adults since ancient times. Dementia is a term used for a wide range of symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. These symptoms include the following:

Decline in memory

Language and communication confusion

Difficulty focusing and paying attention

Poor reasoning and
judgment

Difficulty with visual perception

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s and is named after Alois Alzheimer, a German physician who first described it. Today, Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 70 percent of the dementia cases. It causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older and it is interesting to note that up to 5 percent of people with Alzheimer’s are in their 40s and 50s.

The second most common form of dementia is Vascular and this can occur after a person experiences a stroke. There are numerous other conditions that have symptoms of dementia, even some that are reversible, and include thyroid issues and vitamin deficiencies.

There is not one test to determine if someone has dementia. Physicians take into consideration medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, mental and memory testing, changes in thinking, daily functioning and behaviors in order to determine that an individual has dementia.

10 Early Symptoms of Dementia

1. Memory Changes: Forgetting where an item has been left, struggling to know the name of someone in the same room or forgetting what given tasks are to be attended to in a given day

2. Difficulty with Words: Difficulty explaining a situation

3. Mood Changes: Mood changes, such as depression or a shift in personality, such as normally being shy to being very outgoing

4. Apathy: Losing interest in a normal activities or hobbies. Choosing to be alone rather than being socially interactive

5. Difficulty with Tasks: Difficulty balancing a checkbook or understanding players or score of sports game. Struggle to learn new things or follow new routines

6. Confusion: Confusion may occur since an individual can no longer remember faces, find right words or properly interact with others

7. Difficulty with Conversations: Struggle with comprehension during a conversation

8. Direction Disruption: Spatial orientation and sense of direction deteriorate. Following step by step instructions becomes difficult

9. Repetitive Behavior: Repeats daily tasks, repeats same question even after an answer has been provided

10. Change in routine can be difficult: Fear from memory loss — going for a walk and not knowing where one is within minutes. This may create desire to stick with what is known and not trying new things

Some risk factors for dementia, such as age and genetics, cannot be changed. Researchers continue to explore the impact of other brain risk factors and the prevention of dementia. Some active areas of research are in risk reduction and prevention of dementia to include application of the Mediterranean diet that appears to help protect the brain and physical fitness to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Cardiovascular factors also help, such as not smoking, keeping blood pressure stable, monitoring cholesterol, monitoring blood sugar and maintaining a healthy weight.

Research over the past 20 years has greatly improved our understanding of what dementia is and how it develops and affects the brain. This work is paying off with better diagnostic techniques, improved treatments and potential ways of preventing these diseases.

For the next part in my three part series on Dementia, I will be focusing on Dementia and caregivers.

Dr. Julia Breur is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. Further information is available at www.drjuliabreur.com.

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