What is dementia? A quick synopsis.

Dementia is the name given to a group of disorders characterized by multiple cognitive deficits. Dementia may have many different causes. Among them are traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy bodies (small “lumps” of protein) that form in brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease, nutritional or hormonal deficiencies, infection, and tumor. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many potential causes of dementia. Treatment depends on the cause.

When someone has dementia, what are we saying? Dementia is more than memory loss. Symptoms vary among individuals. There may be personality changes, e.g., inappropriate behavior. There may be changes in mood, e.g., depression. There may be difficulty planning tasks. There may be changes in motor function. Symptoms vary with the location in the brain that is affected.

Diagnosis in the early stages can be difficult because of this variability of symptoms. Is it stress? Depression? A psychosis brought on by exposure to a toxic substance? Or is it one of the progressive dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease?

Bottom line? Consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or seem to be getting worse. Treatment may be as simple as hormone replacement. If it is truly one of the progressive dementias, there is no cure. But medication can slow the process and give many quality years following diagnosis.

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Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN

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