Dementia is usually characterized by a progressive deterioration of a person’s mental faculties. It can affects men and women alike. The condition often involves brain damage or atrophy; both are irreversible. In certain cases, however, dementia can be delayed.
Types and Causes of Dementia.
Of the many types of dementia, the commonest has no proven cause at present. It is called senile dementia, being most prevalent after the age of 65.
However, when it occurs in younger people it is called Alzheimer’s disease. The pathologic process is the same in both cases. But arteriosclerotic dementia, caused by a thickening of the arteries in the brain which starves it of blood and oxygen, can occur over the same age span.
Another cause is tumors in the brain: either the tumor itself triggers the condition, or the growth presses against the brain.
Nutritional deficiencies due to a faulty metabolism (the body’s life-supporting process) will also cause dementia, as will poisoning by alcohol or the various toxic substances produced in car exhaust fumes. Damage is only done, however, after long and massive exposure.
Finally, dementia can be caused by physical injury. Not every blow or loss of consciousness contributes to the condition, but if there is brain damage, a degree of dementia might occur.
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One of the first signs of dementia is an impairment of memory. The recollection of recent events is initially affected.
Judgement and reasoning become confused. The person fails to grasp what is going on and is unable to act appropriately. There is emotional instability, and moods will often change for no reason at all. Sometimes, sufferers will not know where they are; they may also wander.
A patient may also commit quite irrational acts, such as turning on the gas or water for no purpose. There may also be delusions. Also an increasing lack of self-interest and awareness, leading to physical neglect. Those in an advanced state of dementia often have to be “minded”, for everybody’s sake.
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Where brain damage or atrophy are concerned, there is little hope for improvement. The best that can be done is to try and halt the progress of the condition by stimulating mental faculties remaining.
Sitting down and doing nothing should be discouraged. Instead watching TV, talking or walking are much better.
It may caused by metabolic defect resulting from poor diet or poisoning, once this has been detected, the progress of the condition can be halted.
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Frequently Asked Questions.
1. My great-grandfather went mad in a mental hospital, and my mother says he was suffering from dementia. Is it hereditary?
One type of dementia is caused by a faulty gene, and a parent with this could pass on the condition to 50 per cent of his or her children.
But such occurrences are very rare. And while other forms have some genetic influence, the majority are not influential in family transmission, so stop worrying.
2. I am in my 50s and seem to be getting increasingly absent minded. Could I be in the early stages of dementia?
This is highly unlikely. Admittedly, one of the first signs of dementia in the elderly is a tendency to forget things, but that is all. Generally, absent-mindedness is due to intense concentration in another direction, which can hardly be equated with the deterioration associated with dementia.
3. Can taking certain drugs bring on dementia? I have read somewhere that it can?
Yes, this is so. Any chemical that produces brain damage, such as excessive alcohol, will cause this. On the other hand, there are many drugs (taken either for medical purposes or, in the popular sense, for ‘kicks’) which either have no effect on the brain at all. If they do, it does not permanently damage and affect brain function.
4. Do you have to be senile to be demented?
No. There are at least six causes of dementia, and only one of these is old age. There are many very old people who are not suffering from dementia.
5. I have just been diagnosed as being in the early stages of syphilis. Will I go mad?
Not so long ago, this would have been a disturbing possibility. But new and effective treatment will clear up your symptoms quickly and make the likelihood of dementia at some later stage most unlikely.
The mental disabilities that are caused by dementia are very distressing, but its effects can be minimized. The progress of the condition can be halted by stimulating those faculties still unimpaired.