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What is Dementia?

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While many have heard of dementia, the exact symptoms and nature of the disease may remain a mystery. Simply put, dementia is a loss of brain function. While it affects many aspects of a patient's life, it most generally affects memory, language and behavior. Dementia is not a standalone disease, and often occurs in tandem with other ailments, the most common of which is Alzheimer's.   

Dementia Symptoms

The symptoms of dementia vary patient to patient, but most often embody themselves in several common ways. Memory loss is by far the most common symptom brought on by dementia. Other frequently occurring symptoms include a debilitation of language and communication skills, a loss of visual perception or a shortened attention span and ability to focus. Those with dementia may also experience impaired reasoning and judgment or significantly different emotional behavior. Dementia often manifests itself in two or more of these symptoms, and makes it difficult for the affected individual to live a normal life. Although the initial stages of dementia are often mild, memory loss and confusion will eventually reach a point that makes it impossible for a dementia patient to live without aid.   

Causes and Risk Factors

In the most banal terms, dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. The damaged cells are unable to communicate and function properly, which affects memory, behavior, etc. Unfortunately, this damage, and thus most forms of dementia, are considered nonreversible. Again, Alzheimer's is the most common example, although a wide variety of other diseases may also eventually lead to nonreversible dementia. These include Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis and Lyme disease. More mild reversible forms of dementia exist as well, although reversible dementia is usually brought on by a brain injury or tumor, not a particular disease. In rare instances, metabolic changes may bring on reversible dementia, as will extremely low vitamin B-12 levels. The causes vary widely, although the population demographic most affected by dementia is over 60, with the risk increasing with age.   

Testing for Dementia

Although no one test exists to determine the presence of dementia, the application of a variety of tests and review of medical history may lead to a diagnosis. A visit to a neurologist or other specialty doctor may be needed to specify a type of dementia and recommend treatment.   

Treating Dementia

The treatment applied to dementia invariably relies on what is causing it. In the event that the dementia is nonreversible, there is no cure. However, various drug treatments used in Dementia Care will slow the dementia's progress, and help the patient live a more stable life. Therapy may occasionally be employed as well. This is more common in the early stages of dementia. Reversible dementia may be treated through a combined drug and therapy regimen.    Overall, dementia is a multifaceted illness that can be brought on by a variety of factors. Although it is rarely reversible, dementia patients may still live a fairly normal life with an early diagnosis and proper treatment.



By Lucy james
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Biography: Lucy James is a freelance writer helping to represent MHA; a UK based charity specialising in elderly care and Dementia.

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