Dementia: What is it and how is it diagnosed?
Dementia is a disorder of the brain that results in declined cognitive performance, causing individuals to lose the ability to think, process, judge, and appropriately respond to information. Dementia is a broad term, covering many different diseases of the brain. Some of the more well-known kinds of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementias, and frontotemporal dementias.How is dementia diagnosed?
There are very early signs and symptoms of dementia, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, moderate dementia, and severe dementia. Biomarkers are indicators, such as changes in sensory abilities, or substances that appear in body fluids like blood, cerebrospinal fluid, or urine. Biomarkers can indicate exposure to a substance, the presence of a disease, or the progression of a disease over time. Such tools are critical to helping scientists detect and understand the very early signs and symptoms of dementia.Do we know what causes dementia?
We still aren’t entirely sure what causes dementia, but we are learning more and more every day. Great strides have been made in the last twenty years alone, and we have more information now than ever before to give us clues about where these diseases come from and how to treat them.
We have learned that there are genes we inherit that may influence our susceptibility to dementia. However, having this gene does not necessarily mean that you will develop dementia, and not having the gene doesn’t mean that you won’t develop dementia anyway. We also believe that dementia is a chronic illness that develops over time, and reacts with other medical conditions and everyday exposures.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for dementia. However, there are many FDA-approved medications that help treat the symptoms of the disease, and can help slow down your memory problems as well as treat other potential risk factors such as heart disease. Although no two cases are alike, there several medications on the market that have helped many individuals slow down their condition.How common is dementia?
In the U.S., there are believed to be at least 5 million individuals with age-related dementias. These numbers will only continue to rise with the aging of the U.S. population. It is estimated that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men, who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Dementia caused by nervous system disease, especially Alzheimer’s disease, is increasing in frequency more than most other types of dementia.Who gets dementia?
Dementia is considered a late-life disease because it tends to develop mostly in elderly people. About 5% to 8% of all people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia, and this number doubles every five years above that age. It is estimated that as many as half of people in their eighties suffer from dementia.What dementias are treatable?
Dementia due to:
- Long-term substance abuse
- Tumors that can be removed
- Subdural hematoma, accumulation of blood beneath the outer covering of the brain as a result of a broken blood vessel, usually caused by head injury
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus
- Metabolic disorders, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency
- Hypothyroidism, a condition that results from an underactive thyroid
- Hypoglycemia, a condition that results from low blood sugar
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multi-infarct dementia (dementia due to multiple small strokes)
- Dementias associated with Parkinson’s disease and similar disorders
- AIDS dementia complex
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a quickly progressing and fatal disease that consists of dementia and muscle twitching and spasm