What is Dementia & What Are the Early Signs?
Changes in memory and cognitive function are often thought to be typical signs of aging. But the fact is, serious memory loss, as experienced with dementia, is not a normal part of aging at all.
Dementia affects 50 million adults worldwide. Early detection and intervention are critical for slowing the progression of symptoms. Read on to learn more about dementia, early signs to look for, and treatment options.
What is Dementia?
According to The World Health Organization, dementia is a syndrome “in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (i.e., the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal ageing.”
Dementia is a broad term that covers a wide range of disorders characterized by abnormal brain changes and cognitive impairment. While Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, doctors have identified many other disorders and factors that contribute to the development of dementia.
Dementia is progressive in nature, which means that the signs and symptoms become more severe over time. Areas that can be affected include:
Dementia Risk and Prevention
When looking at the causes of dementia, age is the biggest risk factor. Most people with dementia are over 65 years old. Other risk factors for dementia include having a family history of dementia or Down’s Syndrome, race/ethnicity, and poor cardiovascular health.
Leading a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating healthy can decrease the chances of developing chronic conditions that are closely linked to dementia, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease makes up nearly 70% of all dementia cases, but there are other forms or types of dementia. Some symptoms of different types of dementia can overlap and can vary from person to person.
Dementia is caused by damage to nerve cells, which interferes with their ability to transmit information and communicate with each other. This damage can be caused by clumps of proteins (plaques) forming on these nerve cells or by a lack of blood supply to keep the cells alive.
What are the Early Signs and Symptoms of Dementia?
Early signs of dementia can be difficult to detect as they often start out slowly with subtle changes in cognitive function. As we age, we tend to be slightly more forgetful or take a little longer to complete tasks, but dementia causes a greater disruption.
A normal sign of aging may be forgetting an appointment or to take your medication sometimes. But with dementia, forgetfulness can get in the way of everyday functioning. Things like forgetting how to drive to a place you’ve always gone to, such as church or the grocery store. Early detection and intervention are critical for slowing the progression of symptoms.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, common early symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory changes that interfere with daily functioning — such as forgetting important dates regularly.
- Trouble planning or problem-solving — an example is having difficulty following the steps to a recipe.
- Getting time or place confused — this doesn’t mean getting lost driving somewhere new, but rather forgetting how you got to a certain place.
- Trouble finding the words — dementia can impact communication making it difficult to find a word in the middle of the sentence.
- Losing track of things frequently — this is beyond occasionally losing your keys; this involves placing things in unusual places (like the remote in the refrigerator) and being unable to find them later.
- Changes in judgment — such as making poor decisions about money or keeping up with basic hygiene.
- Mood changes.
If someone is having trouble remembering tasks or places, it’s understandable that frustration and even fear can occur. People with signs and symptoms of dementia can become upset by everyday tasks due to the stress and effort it takes to complete things that were once second nature. Fear and suspicion are natural responses for someone who can’t figure out where they are or how they got there.
Diagnosis of Dementia
While there’s no lab test or X-ray that can determine if someone definitely has dementia, there are several things your healthcare provider may do to check memory or causes of memory decline. These include a complete medical history, physical exam, and potentially lab work.
Your loved one’s doctor may also order brain imaging to see if they have had a stroke which can cause signs and symptoms of dementia.
There are several mental cognition tests available to test memory and thinking. These are often questions your healthcare provider will ask during your visit. These questions might include: what date is it, who is the president, and they may ask you to remember words or numbers to recite later.
These cognition tests are helpful because they can tell if someone is aware they have signs of dementia and to check the severity of symptoms.
Dementia Treatment & Care: One Size Does Not Fit All
If a loved one is showing signs of memory decline, it’s important for their healthcare team to eliminate any potential causes of dementia. This can include changing certain medications that can cause changes in thinking issues, finding and treating an infection or correcting any abnormal lab results. An abnormally functioning thyroid or love vitamin B levels can also cause mild signs of dementia.
Mood changes are common when people experience memory changes and signs of dementia. Treating these changes can improve quality of life for someone even though they aren’t considered specific dementia medications.
Treatment for dementia, including Alzheimer’s, can include medications designed to improve memory and thinking. Medications can have side effects so discuss the pros and cons with your loved one’s healthcare team before starting any treatments. Medication for depression, anxiety, and sleep changes are often used to reduce symptoms caused by dementia.
While there are currently no FDA-approved medications for dementia that have proven to slow down the rate of memory decline, there are several clinical trials currently happening.
Tandem Careplanning Dementia Home Care Services
If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of dementia or are currently living with dementia, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Tandem Careplanning specializes in dementia home care. Tandem can help you create a customized care plan for you or your loved one, and we’ll help guide you every step of the way.