Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a progressive decline in the brain’s cognitive function, which is caused by brain damage or disease in the body that is beyond what might be expected from normal aging. 

It is a non-specific syndrome in which affected areas of cognition include memory, attention, language, and problem solving.  Although this illness is common among elderly people, dementia may occur as early as adulthood.

Symptoms of dementia

Dementia can either be classified as reversible or irreversible, depending on what caused such illness.  Causes include different specific disease processes such as shortness of breath, jaundice, or pain. 

The health expert examining the patient should be careful in checking for symptoms as dementia can be mistaken for delirium and other mental illnesses.

How dementia is diagnosed?

Diagnosing dementia depends on its different types (whether it is cortical or subcortical in nature).  Cortical dementia affects the cerebral cortex of the brain, while subcortical affects the peripherals of the cerebral cortex. 

Such diagnosis requires the expertise of a geriatric internist, geriatric psychiatrist, neurologist, neuropsychologist, or geropsychologist. 

Several tests can also be used to screen a person’s cognitive status.  Scores for the tests must be interpreted in the context of the person’s educational and other backgrounds, as well as several particular circumstances (a highly depressed individual, for instance, may do well on tests involving mental ability).

Laboratory tests may also provide a key in determining whether a patient suffers from dementia.  Blood tests are performed to rule out any treatable causes. 

Abnormalities may suggest deficiency in vitamins, infection, or other problems that commonly cause confusion or disorientation among the elderly. 

A CT scan or MRI scan is commonly performed as well.  However, these methods do not have optimal sensitivity for the metabolic changes associated with dementia.

How to treat dementia?

Treating dementia depends on what disease caused the syndrome, many of which are incurable, although scientists are progressing in making a type of medication that would slow down the process. 

Early signs of dementia may be diagnosed with cholinesterase inhibitors.  Cognitive and behavioral modifications may also be appropriate.