by Mary Wright, RN, Nurse Educator
Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a set of symptoms that affect a person’s ability to think, remember and reason to such an extent that it interferes with activities of daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia.
Dementia is considered a high priority health issue by “Healthy People 2020,” a government list of national objectives, because Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death for adults age 18 and over. Dementia also affects the quality of life and the ability to live independently for the individual with the disorder.
Dementia is not memory loss alone. It includes problems with at least two brain functions such as confusion, impaired judgment, impaired language, difficulty communicating, as well as changes in personality and social behavior.
Symptoms of dementia include: memory loss, difficulty communicating, inability to learn or to remember new information, difficulty with planning and organizing, difficulty with coordination, and inability to reason.
Dementia has many causes. There are progressive dementias that get worse over time. Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia of this type. Other causes of dementia include infection, reaction to medications and some inherited disorders. Some of these dementias can be reversible with treatment.
Diagnosis of dementia is important so that effective treatment and care may begin. It may require several doctor visits and tests before a diagnosis of dementia can be made.
There is no standard treatment for dementia but some of the symptoms can be treated. There are several medications that may be effective in helping patients with dementia. Also, the treatment of the cause of the dementia can slow or stop the progress of the dementia.
Some of the risk factors for dementia include age, family history, alcohol use, smoking and high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.