DEMENTIA

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Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. It is caused by diseases that affect the functioning of the brain and should be regarded as a normal part of aging.

The symptoms of dementia may vary amongst individuals. Some of these symptoms include problems with memory, attention, reasoning, judgement and communication. This individuals will often forget old memories, forget names of close relatives or friends, unable to complete tasks independently, get lost in familiar neighbourhoods and use unusual words to name familiar objects.

People who are at risk for developing dementia are those who are older than 65 years of age. It tends to have a female preponderance with females more affected than males at a ratio of 2:1.  Those who have parents or siblings with dementia are more likely to develop dementia themselves. Individuals who have had trauma to the head are also at an increased risk as well. Conditions that increase the risk of developing a stroke such as; high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol levels also increase the risks of developing dementia. Lastly but not least, dementia is more common in the black population.

Dementia is caused by various conditions. The most common cause of dementia is what is referred to as Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a diseases which is progressive and causes brain cells to die and the brain to shrink. This then leads to memory loss and other symptoms of dementia as described. Other causes of dementia is vascular dementia. This is due to recurrent minor strokes in various parts of the brain. This eventually affects memory and other functions. Other conditions that lead to degeneration of the brain can also lead to dementia . there are certain medical conditions which can also cause dementia. This are often reversible. Examples of this include low thyroid hormone, vitamin B12 deficiency, increased pressure in the brain and certain medications.

The diagnosis of this condition involves tests that are done by the clinician to test for memory, attention, problem solving and other areas of cognition. Blood tests are also done exclude medical conditions that can cause dementia as well as those that  puts one at risk. A CT scan or MRI of the brain is done to assess for any evidence of recurrent strokes, as well as to look for shrinking of the brain consistent with Alzheimer’s.

Treatment of this condition depends on the cause. However degenerative conditions of the brain such as Alzheimer’s have no cure. There are medications which can be given to manage associated comorbidities such as anxiety and behavioural changes. In cases where dementia is due to recurrent strokes , treatment is given to prevent further strokes.  Leading a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and maintaining social contacts, decreases chances of developing chronic diseases and may reduce number of people with dementia.

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