What is dementia?
Dementia is a type of brain disease. When a person suffers dementia, the cells of his brain deteriorate and lose their normal functions earlier than normal. This alteration in brain cells causes the brain to malfunction, and little by little, patients are losing their intellectual abilities.
The first symptoms usually consist of slight forgetfulness and loss of memory; Affected people forget things as common as the name of their husband or wife. Later, as the disease progresses, they are not sure of data such as the date or place they are in, they do not recognize people, they forget conversations they have had, they do not hold back answers to more or less simple questions, And even are unable to fulfill orders made to them. Particular care must be taken to let them go out into the street on their own, as they are often lost on routes that were previously known to themselves.
Older people with dementia may become apathetic or lose interest in activities that were important to them. In the later stages, patients are not able to take care of themselves and need help in washing, dressing or eating. Their conversation becomes repetitive, and they can ask the same question over and over again. Sometimes they may become verbally or physically aggressive, and find themselves agitated. In the final phase, the patient usually stays in bed, requiring constant care from a caregiver.
Facts about Dementia
- It is not a normal part of aging: the usual thing is that an elderly person does not have dementia, but small forgetfulness or lack of memory that cannot be considered as an illness.
- It is not caused by stress.
- It is not contagious.
- It is not due to poor or excessive mental activity.
- The most frequent specific dementias are:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementias
- Alcoholic dementia, which is reversible.
What causes can lead to dementia?
We can distinguish two large groups of causes:
- Reversible dementias: they can be caused by diseases of the metabolism, intoxications by drugs, alcohol abuse, traumatisms, tumors, etc.
- Irreversible dementias: such as, for example, Alzheimer’s.
It is the most common type of dementia, and is due to a loss of brain cells (neurons) leading to brain atrophy. It seems to be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Over time, fewer neurons are functioning properly, and the patient’s mental state deteriorates slowly but inexorably.
Vascular dementias, including dementia due to multiple infarctions
It is the second most frequent type of dementia, and is due to poor cerebral blood flow. Its most frequent causes are chronic hypertension and atherosclerosis of vessels that carry blood to the brain. In this class of dementia, many small strokes (strokes) occur, which cut off the blood supply to parts of the brain. To keep the disease progressing more slowly, it is important to keep blood pressure and sugar in adequate numbers, and to stop smoking.
Drinking alcohol excess causes brain damage, and one of these damages is the development of dementia. It is a type of dementia that stops its progress if the individual leaves the alcohol completely.
What can be done?
In the early stages of the disease, there are practical ways to refresh your memory, such as keeping a diary or using a bulletin board. Some older people who do not have relatives, to avoid getting lost in the street, always carry with them (usually hanging around their neck) a kind of card with their photograph, name and address or contact numbers.
We should not confuse dementia with other neurological or psychiatric diseases, although they may seem similar. For example, depression, states of agitation or drowsiness, or other types of pictures that produce forgetfulness, or similar symptoms. In these cases, we should first go to our GP, who will know how to channel the problem and differentiate it from a true dementia.
When a new drug against dementia appears in the media we should not think that this medicine is already available. Generally, they are studies that will still take years to produce results. Despite this, there are some drugs that are being used in very early stages of the disease in some patients, but it must be taken into account that they can only be given to a specific group of patients, controlled by the specialist.
Caring for people with dementia is a crucial point: caring for someone with dementia can be very difficult, since it requires almost total attention, especially in the later stages of the disease. Joining or contacting a group of caregivers may be helpful. The family doctor can help control any secondary symptoms that appear, such as insomnia, restlessness, urinary incontinence, constipation, and prescribe appropriate medication for each case.
People with dementia are often entitled to receive certain benefits from Social Security, such as home help or financial aid.
In Spain there are associations that guide the relatives of people with dementia, and in certain situations, they provide psychological support. The most well-known is the Alzheimer’s Association. There are also day centers, both public and private, that take care of the sick and perform with them exercises and practices to slow the process.
Nobody has a perfect memory, and all people, of any age, forget things daily. Therefore we should not think that any alteration of our memory or that of our relatives will be a dementia.
Forgetting the day and the date is not so rare, especially in the elderly and retired people who do not need to control the time.
Most elderly people do not have dementia and, in those who are affected, the symptoms can be very mild for several years.