According to the CDC, 6.2 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, an umbrella term for a group of symptoms associated with the loss of cognitive function. This loss of function typically manifests as memory loss and difficulty thinking or speaking.
It can be difficult to watch a loved one suffer from dementia. While there is no cure for most forms of dementia, recognizing the early signs of dementia can help your loved one get the help they need to manage their symptoms.
The symptoms of dementia vary depending on the cause and the extent of the damage. It is important to contact a doctor about any changes in your ability to think that are severe enough to impact your daily life. Symptoms of dementia can include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty finding words
- Getting lost
- Difficulty problem-solving
- Personality changes
- Anxiety or Depression
- Difficulty with attention
Dementia is caused by damage to the brain. Most often this damage is caused by Alzheimer’s disease; however, other disorders (e.g., Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal disorders) stroke, head trauma, or even reactions to some medications can also cause dementia.
At times, especially in people 80 or older, dementia can have more than one cause: this is called mixed dementia.
Dementia is most common in individuals older than 65, and the risk increases with age. Other factors that increase a person’s risk of dementia are:
- Family history: Parents or siblings with dementia
- Certain ethnic backgrounds: Dementia has been found to be more prevalent among African Americans and Hispanics.
- Poor diet
- Heavy alcohol use
- Head injuries
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low levels of cognitive engagement
- A sedentary lifestyle/lack of physical activity
Dementia is diagnosed based on symptoms reported to your doctor along with in-office physical and neurological examinations. The neurological examination may include tests to measure your memory, reasoning skills, movement, balance, reflexes, and attention.
With dementia, it is important to understand the pattern of what skills and functions are being lost. It is likely your doctor will want to speak to someone close to you about your symptoms as well.
Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as CT, MRI, or PET scans, all of which are non-invasive procedures used to produce pictures of your internal tissues, in this case, your brain.
MRI scans are often used to examine blood vessels, so they are effective at detecting evidence of stroke or other vascular issues that can cause dementia. A PET scan can be used to find the hallmark protein markers of dementia and confirm your diagnosis.
Blood tests and spinal taps may also be needed to determine the cause of dementia.
How is dementia treated?
As with diagnosis, the treatment for dementia largely depends on the root cause. Most kinds of dementia cannot be cured, but there are ways to manage dementia, temporarily improve symptoms, and maintain quality of life.
Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s-induced dementia may be prescribed medication to regulate brain activity. Additional medications may be prescribed to treat specific aspects of dementia, such as depression or agitation.
Alongside medication, doctors may also prescribe occupational therapy. Occupational therapists teach methods of coping mentally and physically with your condition.
Why Choose NGPG?
NGPG Neuroscience employs several board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurointerventional surgeons, neuropsychiatrists, and other specialists who provide high-quality care and up-to-date treatments through our two outpatient Neurology office locations. For imaging and surgical care, we partner with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s expert neurosciences team and state-of-the-art facilities, ensuring our patients’ access to all the services of a leading hospital alongside our excellent outpatient care.
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