Support groups are advocating for the elimination of the term "senile dementia," preferring to use the specific condition's name, such as Alzheimer's or Pick's disease. They argue that dementia can affect people of all ages, and the term "senile" carries negative connotations in modern society.
However, many clinicians still use the term to describe a group of conditions primarily affecting the elderly, emphasizing the age of the individual rather than their mental capacity.
Types of Elderly Dementia
When doctors refer to someone with senile dementia, they acknowledge that there is a brain change occurring in an elderly person. "Senile dementia" is not an official diagnosis; instead, they specify the particular form of dementia. The most common types associated with senile dementia are:
- Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer's, the most prevalent cause of dementia worldwide, is characterized by plaque buildup in the brain, leading to nerve "tangles" that result in cell death.
- Vascular Dementia: This type is linked to heart and circulatory system issues, where burst blood vessels in the brain lead to cognitive decline. In rare cases, it can affect younger individuals.
- Pick's Disease: Similar to Alzheimer's, Pick's disease is caused by plaque buildup in the brain's arteries and veins. However, it selectively affects specific cell types, leading to changes in behavior while language skills are often preserved.
Senile Dementia: Typical Symptoms
Research into senile dementia has increased as the aging population grows in Western countries. Distinguishing between normal age-related memory loss and dementia symptoms is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment. The following symptoms go beyond the expected memory changes associated with aging:
- Social Skills: Drastic and permanent changes in social behavior, such as a sudden dislike for people they previously liked, repetitive conversations, or difficulty following discussions.
- Irritability: Increased irritability, often triggered by the frustration of struggling with simple tasks and awareness of cognitive decline.
- Physical Conditions: Decline in physical abilities for routine tasks, including walking difficulties and struggling with activities like tying shoes, washing dishes, or writing.
Testing memory is not a recommended approach when assessing dementia in older adults. The hippocampus, responsible for storing long-term memories, is one of the first areas to degrade, and some forgetfulness is typical in aging adults. Instead, focus on the symptoms mentioned above as clearer indicators of a more serious issue.
Senile dementia is a progressive disease without a cure, but doctors can prescribe medication and lifestyle changes to slow its progression. While assistance with daily tasks is essential, friends and family of dementia sufferers should establish a support network to cope with the emotional toll of watching their loved ones experience personality changes.
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