What Is Dementia?
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.
These functions include memory, language skills, visual perception, problem solving, self-management, and the ability to focus and pay attention.
Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and their personalities may change.
Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of living.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way.
However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia. These include:
- memory loss
- difficulty concentrating
- finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
- struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- being confused about time and place
- mood changes
These symptoms are often mild and may get worse only very gradually. It’s often termed “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) as the symptoms are not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.
Professional evaluation may detect a treatable condition. And even if symptoms suggest dementia, early diagnosis allows a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and provides an opportunity to volunteer for clinical trials or studies. It also provides time to plan for the future.
Dementia Treatment and Care
Treatment of dementia depends on its cause.
In the case of most progressive dementia’s, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression.
But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms.
The same medications used to treat Alzheimer’s are among the drugs sometimes prescribed to help with symptoms of other types of dementia’s. Non-drug therapies can also alleviate some symptoms of dementia.
Ultimately, the path to effective new treatments for dementia is through increased research funding and increased participation in clinical studies.
Right now, volunteers are urgently needed to participate in clinical studies and trials about Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s.
Prevention of Dementia
There’s no sure way to prevent dementia, but there are steps you can take that might help. More research is needed, but it might be beneficial to do the following:
- Keep your mind active. Mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, solving puzzles and playing word games, and memory training might delay the onset of dementia and decrease its effects.
- Be physically and socially active. Physical activity and social interaction might delay the onset of dementia and reduce its symptoms. Move more and aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week.
- Quit smoking. Some studies have shown smoking in middle age and beyond may increase your risk of dementia and blood vessel (vascular) conditions. Quitting smoking might reduce your risk and will improve your health.
- Get enough vitamin D. Research suggests that people with low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. You can get vitamin D through certain foods, supplements and sun exposure.
More study is needed before an increase in vitamin D intake is recommended for preventing dementia, but it’s a good idea to make sure you get adequate vitamin D.
- Lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure might lead to a higher risk of some types of dementia. More research is needed to determine whether treating high blood pressure may reduce the risk of dementia.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet is important for many reasons, but a diet such as the Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in certain fish and nuts — might promote health and lower your risk of developing dementia.