A Dementia Overview – What is Dementia?

Understand the symptoms, causes, and treatment of irreversible dementias like Alzheimer's. Learn about plaques and tangles impact on the brain and the importance of early diagnosis.

A Dementia Overview – What is Dementia?
What is Dementia? 

Providing a comprehensive dementia overview first demands a definition of dementia. It will help explain why it has such a devastating effect on an individual’s ability to function. Dementia itself is not a disease. It is a group of symptoms indicating that a medical condition. This condition damages the brain structures vital to memory and rational thinking.

Depending on the cause of the dementia, structures of the brain are affected.

Areas of the brain such:

  • The hippocampus
  • The ventricles
  • The neocortex may suffer severe shrinkage and atrophy.

Brain cells responsible for:

  • Transmitting thoughts
  • Ideas
  • Perceptions
  • Sound patterns to the appropriate part of the brain are affected. Processing information may be suffocated. This occurs when the brain is overtaken by the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Dementia?

Is Dementia Curable?

Dementia may be reversible under special circumstances

Some benign tumors, that inhibit blood flow to parts of the brain, might be safely removed surgically.

Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies can induce dementia-like symptoms. These symptoms are reversible when the patient is given nutritional supplements.

Other causes of temporary dementia may be:

  • Dehydration
  • Negative medicinal reactions
  • Endocrine irregularities
  • Thyroid disease

These causes of temporary dementia disappears as soon as the condition is treated.

A short dementia overview of irreversible dementias such as:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Vascular or multi-infarct dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (dementia caused by alcoholism)

These irreversible dementias at the moment, have no cure.

Eventually, the patient with a type of irreversible dementia becomes so debilitated. Over time, he or she must enter a 24-hour nursing facility for around the clock care.

What are the Symptoms Characterizing Alzheimer’s Disease?

A dementia overview of Alzheimer’s-type dementia needs to include a short introduction . “Plaques and tangles”, are the hallmark feature of an Alzheimer’s brain.

Growth of beta-amyloid protein deposits (plaques) build up in the brain over time. The twisted strands of tangles that are comprised of a protein called tau. They are responsible for restricting communication among neurons. This promotes the death of millions of nerve cells.

Researchers are not sure what triggers the emergence of plaques and tangles. Scientists suspect the development of AD dementia symptoms is due to genetics and lifestyle choices.

Everyone experiences lapses in memory as an adult. But, when memory problems appear to worsen over time there are other things to observe. Behavioral and cognitive changes in the patient , the probability increases it is AD.

Mild to moderate signs of dementia are:

  • Repeating the same questions, statements and anecdotes over and over again
  • Forgetting important appointments or events
  • Putting items in strange places and forgetting about them
  • Having regular difficulty remembering commonly used words
  • Trouble with following conversations involving more than two people
  • Judgment and reasoning may not be as sound as it used to be. Feelings of disorientation and confusion may come and go
  • Appearing depressed and anxious. This is due to the growing realization that something is not right.
  • Denial may also begin at this stage with some AD patients. They become angry and lash out at those who start to question their mental state

As these symptoms worsen, an AD dementia patient will be unable to remember many other things, such as:

  • The day
  • Year
  • Even the names of his or her children.
  • Writing and speaking skills decline
  • They lose the ability to perform everyday tasks
  • Mood swings may occur
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme stubbornness
  • Wandering, especially at night, usually affects people with Alzheimer’s dementia.

The dementia information from research studies believe the plaques and tangles grow. Over time this causes the atrophy of the brain. The patient’s circadian rhythm is affected. This is thought to cause many AD patients to experience disruption in sleep patterns. Cell damage occurs within the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain. This is a structure that regulates sleep/wake cycles in all mammals.

What is Dementia “Multi-Infarct” or Vascular Dementia?

This is a dementia overview of the memory problems caused by strokes. These symptoms occur due to obstructed blood flow to the brain . iIt is important to have an understanding why blood is so important to the brain.

The brain only weighs about three pounds and is roughly the size of two adult fists placed side by side. It uses nearly 20 percent of the body’s oxygen and blood reserves. It also uses large amounts of glucose. This is to satisfy the demands of the constantly signaling to the neurons in the brain.

Even a small disruption in blood flow to the brain will cause noticeable impairment. This affects that ability to think clearly. It can also cause the inability to remain oriented to time and place.

Vascular dementia is not a normal part of aging.

It is caused by:

  • Strokes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Or conditions that damage vessels and restrict blood flow to the brain.

Vascular dementia drastically affects memory, rational thinking and behavior. People suffering from vascular dementia eventually experience coma and brain death. Or they may have a series of small strokes that shut down the brain.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies A Dementia Overview continues…

Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of dementia. It is also the most misdiagnosed.

Lewy bodies affect thought processes by clogging the cortex with protein alpha-synuclein clumps.

This causes dementia symptoms that cause:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Parkinsonian-type muscle spasms

Patients with Lewy bodies find that they may not experience the severe memory issues seen in AD patients.

They do exhibit other symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s such as… disorientation and confusion.

Different types of dementia such as :

  • Frontotemporal dementia seen in Pick’s disease
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Primary progressive aphasia are not as common as AD and multi-infarct dementia. They also cause changes in behavior as well as language difficulties.

More Dementia Overview

It is important to include medical conditions that have symptoms that appear to be dementia like. However they are not a form of dementia.

As stated previously, age-related mental decline is not the same as dementia. We all experience mild cognitive impairment as we age. This is due to a natural decrease in brain volume. Specifically the gray matter. But not to the level that true dementia patients experience it.

Being depressed or socially withdrawn is not a sign of dementia. Instead, the losses suffered as a part of growing old are often stressful. This causes the elderly to feel unusually despondent. It may be necessary for an intervention. Counseling and antidepressant medications may be necessary.

More on dementia at Alzheimers Association

Have more questions? Check out the Frequently Asked Question section of the website. You will find a lot of different questions answered directly.
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