Doctors use the word dementia to describe the gradual
deterioration of a person's mental abilities, in combination with changes in
personality and behaviour. It is rarely seen in people under the age of 70.
are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of dementia include memory loss,
disorientation, communication difficulties, personality changes (moodiness and
bad temper are quite common) and a gradual decline in the person's ability to
undertake ordinary, everyday activities.
Memory loss is often the first clear symptom, and
memory of recent events tends to decline more quickly than the person's ability
to recall long-term memories. Disorientation is also common. This is where the
person begins to lose all sense of time and place. This may, for example, make
them reluctant to leave the house, as this can be terrifying to the sufferer.
Dramatic changes in the sufferer's personality
are common but by no means universal. Social withdrawal and a marked loss of
interest in usual routines and activities are commonly observed. More distressingly
for family or carers can be the sudden mood swings and the development of quite
unpleasant personality traits, such as spitefulness or the use of foul language.
At more advanced stages in the disease, the person's behaviour may have deteriorated
almost entirely to a level that would be socially unacceptable.
In combination with this is a gradual decline in
practical skills, such as cooking, opening a tin of food or driving. As the
disease advances, even the most basic skills, such as dressing or washing, may
also be lost. Verbal ability also declines sharply; conversations become disjoint
and reading and writing become increasingly difficult for the person.
The term dementia is not really regarded as a complete
medical diagnosis. There are a number of individual diseases which can produce
the symptoms of dementia, so the doctor will attempt to identify which is the
likely culprit before deciding on a course of treatment or management. According
to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, it is estimated that 33,000 people in the
Republic of Ireland have dementia, most of whom have Alzheimer's Disease which
is the most common cause of dementia and represents about 60% of all cases.
Alzheimer's is a progressive degenerative disease which gradually kills brain
A small number of Alzheimer's cases are believed
to be as a result of a defective gene, but in most instances the cause of the
disease is unknown. Other possible causes of dementia include stroke or vascular
dementia, the long term effects of repeated head injury (as in former boxers),
vitamin B12 deficiency, an under-active thyroid or drug interactions - these
always have to be reviewed in the elderly, who may be on several medications
as the same time. For more information on Alzheimer-related dementia, contact
the Alzheimer Society of Ireland on 1800 341 341 or online at http://www.alzheimer.ie
dementia be cured?
Unfortunately, this is very much as progressive
disease. However, it is vital that the person is fully medically reviewed, as
other conditions such as depression in the elderly (which responds well to treatment)
may mimic the symptoms of dementia. Also, some forms of dementia, although incurable,
do respond well to medication, which may slow up the rate of decline and improve
the person's quality of life. Your GP is your first line for advice
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