Dementia should not be seen as a separate disease, but rather as a result of changes in the brain. Depending on the cause, the symptoms appear with varying degrees of intensity and in almost every period of life.
Is dementia really incurable and how to help a person suffering from such a disease, says family medicine doctor Kristina Shevchenko.
What is dementia
According to the etiology, dementia is divided into main blocks, such as: Alzheimer's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia. According to the definition of the WHO (World Health Organization), dementia syndrome is a syndrome caused by a brain disease, usually chronic or progressive, clinically characterized by multiple disorders of higher cortical functions such as memory, thinking, orientation, understanding, counting, learning ability and appreciation of what happens.
Symptoms of dementia: how the disease manifests itself
Most often, the first symptom of dementia is short-term memory loss – then the patient does not remember what happened a few hours or minutes ago, but at the same time can recall fragments of life that happened several years ago. Mental disorders may appear (for example, in the form of depression) and emotional disorders (loss of control over emotions in the form of rapid irritability, nervousness, loss of interest in the world around us). Patients with developing dementia may experience a strong feeling of fatigue, a complete loss of the ability to keep attention on the simplest actions, up to the loss of the ability to even monitor their own hygiene. Patients in the last stages of the disease need almost round-the-clock care, since almost all basic vital functions are disturbed.
Alzheimer's disease as the most common manifestation of dementia
Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease whose symptoms are progressive memory and behavior disorders that, over time, completely prevent the patient from functioning normally in everyday life and disrupt social contacts. The incidence of the disease increases with age, with women more likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease than men. However, it is noted that timely treatment can slow the progression of dementia.
Alzheimer's disease classically begins with a gradual progressive decline in cognitive functions, as a rule, memory impairment occurs. Over time, speech disorders join the memory deterioration - the patient has problems with the correct use of words, he forgets words, cannot perform ordinary everyday actions, visual-spatial disorders occur. Recognizing the onset of the disease is difficult. In many patients, increasing memory impairment over the years may not disrupt normal daily activities and thus may not meet the criteria for dementia. This period of the disease corresponds to the so-called mild cognitive impairment. It is documented that up to 80% of cases of mild cognitive impairment manifested by memory impairment develop into dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease over the next few years. The disease has a progressive course and lasts 8-20 years.
Diagnosis and treatment of dementia. Where to begin
If you suspect that you or someone close to you is developing symptoms of dementia, the first step should be to see a psychiatrist or neurologist. The diagnosis of dementia is multi-stage - its main part is a neuropsychological examination, which includes an assessment of the patient's cognitive functions (for example, the ability to remember or use language). In addition, neuroimaging studies are considered to be quite effective diagnostics - magnetic resonance imaging of the head or computed tomography. They clearly show the changes occurring in the brain, namely, a decrease in the thickness of gray matter.
As for the treatment itself, the therapy used today is only symptomatic, that is, it does not eliminate the causes of the disease, but only fights or alleviates its symptoms. Drugs from the group of cetylcholinesterase inhibitors and allosteric modulators can be prescribed as drugs. To improve cognitive state and slow down the clinical symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, in addition to pharmacological treatment, psychological effects are recommended, for example, cognitive therapy (memory training), reminiscence therapy (evoking memories using photos, letters, souvenirs). Among other things, part of the therapy will be consolidating the skills that the patient still possesses, or recreating the recently lost. And if the patient has mood disorders or other mental disorders, antidepressants, antipsychotics, etc. are used.
How to protect yourself and loved ones from dementia. Alzheimer's Prevention
Today, there are many studies that offer methods to prevent the development of dementia and reduce the symptoms of the disease. So, the most effective are such preventive measures as:
- Physical activity.
- Healthy sleep 7-8 hours a day.
- Adequate and proper nutrition.
- Control of stressful situations.
- Control of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
- Engaging in activities that can improve cognitive health: social and intellectual engagement, such as clubs, reading, learning something new; assimilation of new information, memorization of new words.
Contrary to popular belief, people with dementia syndrome and Alzheimer's can live a normal life. The regular use of properly selected medications, as well as psychotherapy and memory training, helps a lot. All this together not only prolongs the life of the patient, but also gives the opportunity to feel confident and fulfilled.
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