Dementia is a major neurocognitive disorder that causes problems with thinking, memory, and reasoning. Dementia is not a disease, but rather, a group of symptoms caused by other conditions. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.
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We at Texas Center for Lifestyle Medicine offer various treatments that can help patients manage their dementia symptoms.
Learn More About Dementia
Dementia occurs when parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, decision making, and language become damaged or diseased. This condition is sometimes called senility when it occurs at an advanced age.
There are many different types of dementia, depending on what disorder is causing it. Manageable diseases that cause progressive and irreversible dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia, or damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain
- Frontotemporal disorders, which cause the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain’ frontal and temporal lobes
- Lewy body dementia, or abnormal clumps of protein in the brain
- Mixed dementia, which is a combination of dementia and at least one other disorder
Other disorders linked to dementia include:
- Huntington's disease, which causes certain nerve cells to waste away
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain disorder
- Parkinson's disease
- Infections that affect the central nervous system, such as meningitis and HIV
- Hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of traumatic brain injury often seen in professional contact sports athletes
Treatment can halt or reverse some causes and forms of dementia, including:
- Autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis
- Side effects to certain medications
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Heavy drug or alcohol use, or poisoning from toxins like heavy metals
- Serious brain injuries like concussions
- Kidney or liver problems
- Anoxia (hypoxia), or when organ tissues don’t get enough oxygen
- Subdural hematomas, or bleeding between the surface of the brain and its outer covering
Risk factors that may lead to dementia include:
- Being 65 years or older
- Having a family history of dementia
- Having Down syndrome
Other risk factors of dementia that may be reversible include:
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone levels
- Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
- HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND)
Though dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms vary depending on the conditions that cause them, the most common symptoms are memory loss and confusion. Other symptoms that affect cognitive function may include having difficulty:
- Communicating or finding words
- Handling complex tasks
- Performing tasks that require fine motor skills
Psychological symptoms of dementia can include personality changes, such as:
- Depressed mood
- Inappropriate behavior
If not properly treated, dementia may lead to:
- An inability to chew or swallow
- An inability to take care of oneself
A diagnosis of dementia requires that at least two core mental functions are impaired enough to interfere with daily life. There is no single test for dementia, but multiple tests that can be used include:
- Reviewing your medical history
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests to evaluate elements of thinking, such as memory, reasoning, and attention
- Psychiatric evaluation to test for depression or other mental health conditions
- Brain scans, such as a CT or MRI to check for tumors or signs of a stroke, or a PET scan, which can check for signs of the amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's disease
- Blood tests to detect vitamin deficiencies and low thyroid hormone levels
Your healthcare provider may ask a person close to you about your symptoms as well.
Dementia can be managed through medication, therapies, and lifestyle changes. Medication that can be used to temporarily improve dementia symptoms − as well as used for Alzheimer’s treatment − include:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors, which help the mental processes involved in memory and judgement; common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Memantine to regulate activity of a chemical that is responsible for memory and learning; may cause dizziness
- Medications for depression or insomnia
Therapies that may be used to treat behaviors caused by dementia include occupational therapy to help you learn to cope and prepare for your symptoms, as well as modifying tasks and the environment to make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function.
Other therapies that might be used in dementia treatment include:
- Music therapy, such as listening to soothing music
- Pet therapy, such as using visits from dogs to improve moods
- Aromatherapy, which uses fragrant plant oils
- Massage therapy
- Art therapy, in which the process of creating art is focused on rather than on what’s created
Lifestyle changes that may help patients better navigate through their daily lives include:
- Modifying and enhancing communication, such as stressing eye contact, speaking slowly, using gestures, and introducing ideas one at a time
- Using a calendar to help maintain schedules and plan for the future
- Identifying future care that may be needed with family, support groups, and legal advisers
- Establishing a nighttime or going-to-bed routine, as symptoms are often worse at night; this could include limiting caffeine, discouraging naps, and leaving nightlights on in the bathroom, hall, and bedroom
Ways to prevent dementia may include:
- Engaging in mind-stimulating activities like reading and puzzle-solving
- Engaging in physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy social life
- Quitting smoking
- Receiving enough vitamin D
- Keeping your blood pressure low
- Maintaining a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids
Frequently Asked Questions
Dementia hallucinations are the result of changes that occur in the brains of those with dementia. Hallucinations are when someone smells, tastes, feels, hears, or otherwise senses something that does not exist. Unless the hallucination is endangering the patient or others around them, it may be best to let the person be. A healthcare provider can advise you on how to best help a dementia patient move past a destressing hallucination.
The early onset signs of dementia may include subtle, short term memory loss or confusion, abnormal changes in mood, difficulty finding the right words (anomic aphasia), repetition, losing sense of direction, and difficulty completing normal tasks.
There are many different diseases that can cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Some of the numerous risk factors that may lead to dementia include being 65 years or older, family history of dementia, high blood pressure, or smoking.
No. Dementia refers to a group of symptoms caused by other conditions. Alzheimer's disease is simply the most common cause of dementia.
Dementia can be managed through medication, therapies, and lifestyle changes.
Patients with dementia often suffer personality changes, such as depressed mood, anxiety, apathy, and agitation.