What is Dementia?
Dementia is a brain disease that causes a gradual decline of memory, thinking capacity, and communication to the extent that it affects the daily functioning of an individual.
Is Dementia a Medical emergency?
Dementia is not a medical emergency.
Dementia may be of the following types:
- Alzheimer's disease: Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of Dementia in the majority of cases. Symptoms include short-term memory loss, word-finding difficulties, getting lost, requiring frequent repetitions, and difficulty with problem-solving.
- Vascular Dementia: This type is caused due to reduced blood supply to the brain. Blood vessels in the brain get damaged due to trauma or stroke. Symptoms include slow thinking, difficulty focusing, and difficulty in problem-solving.
- Lewy body Dementia: Clumps of protein get deposited in the nerve cells of the brain and cause symptoms of visual hallucinations and Parkinsonism (slow movements, tremors, and rigid muscles). Other symptoms include problems with attention and focus.
- Frontotemporal Dementia: This type is caused by damage to nerve cells in the front and temporal lobes of the brain. Symptoms include personality and behavioural changes, language difficulties, and difficulty in thinking and judgment.
There are several other types of Dementia, which are less common.
Dementia can be caused as a result of some diseases such as:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Huntington's disease
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Parkinson's disease
Various conditions can cause Dementia-like symptoms that can be resolved with treatment. They are the following:
- Immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis
- Endocrine problems like thyroid and low blood sugar
- Vitamin deficiencies. Lack of adequate vitamins like B1, B6, B12, and E
- Exposure to substances like pesticides, lead metal, recreational drugs, and heavy alcohol intake
- Subdural hematomas
- Brain tumors
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus
- Due to the side effects of some medications
Factors that influence the development of Dementia include the following:
- Advanced age
- Family history of Dementia
- Down Syndrome
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and overweight
- Depression and social isolation
- Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption
- Hearing loss: A greater degree of hearing loss can increase the risk of developing Dementia
- Deficiencies of vitamins and nutrients like vitamin D, B6, B12, and folate may increase of risk of developing senility
Signs & symptoms
Signs and symptoms of Dementia consist of behavioural and neuropsychiatric symptoms. They include the following:
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Speech and language abnormality
- Difficulty swallowing
- Inability in problem-solving and reasoning
- Inability to perform a complex task
- Wandering and restlessness
- Memory difficulties like thinking an old memory is a new one
- Agitation and irritability
- Depression and anxiety
- Inappropriate behaviour
- Hallucination and delusions
Investigation tests for Dementia include the following:
- Laboratory tests: These include blood tests to determine any vitamin deficiencies, infections, and other problems that can cause disorientation and confusion. Spinal fluid tests are also done to rule out infections.
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests: These tests evaluate memory, orientation, attention, language, reasoning, and judgment skills.
- Neurological evaluation: A neurological evaluation consists of evaluating memory, attention, balance, senses, problem-solving, reflexes, language, etc.
- Psychiatric evaluation: A mental health examination is performed to check for depression or other disorder that is contributing to confusion and disorientation
- Imaging tests: Brain scans like CT and MRI are done to identify any stroke, tumor, or bleeding in the brain. PET scans are done to identify any cognitive dysfunction
A diagnosis of Dementia is made based on the findings of the neurological evaluation, psychiatric evaluation, medical and physical examination, family history, and the results of the investigation done.
Dementia progresses gradually and can be divided into the following stages depending upon the severity of the symptoms:
- Mild cognitive impairment: The starting stage of Dementia is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Initial symptoms are very minute. MCI later progresses to Dementia.
- Early-stage: Symptoms are noticeable and interfere with daily activities. They include memory difficulty, getting lost in new places, word-finding problems, repeating things, and difficulty handling finances.
- Middle stage: As Dementia progresses, the symptoms vary from individual to individual. Individuals will have the inability to function outside the home, requires assistance for personal care and hygiene, and impairment in solving problems.
- Last stage: In the last stage, people will require assistance for their care and requires 24-hour supervision. They lose balance and fall and may be incontinent of stools or urine. They have complete forgetfulness, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping.
Treatment of Dementia focuses on managing the symptoms. Treatment options include medications as well as therapies.
Medical management of Dementia includes:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: These medications include donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. They improve memory and judgment.
- Memantine: This drug improves memory and learning
Interventional treatment including surgery and indications for surgery/ Surgical treatment
Therapies that are implemented in the treatment of Dementia include the following:
- Psychological therapies like reminiscence therapy: This therapy uses senses (smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound) to help the individual remember past events, places, and people
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy helps to manage daily tasks like cooking, walking, driving, etc., and helps to prevent falls
- Modifying the tasks and modifying the environments: A less noisy environment can help in better focus and functioning. Tasks like bathing and grooming can be simplified and performed better
- Cognitive and behavioural interventions: This therapy helps to improve thinking capacity and problem-solving skills
Role of diet/ Exercise/ Lifestyle changes/ Preventive measures
Preventive measures for Dementia include:
- Being socially active
- Engaging in activities
- Controlling high blood pressure and blood sugar
- Cessation of smoking tobacco
- Maintaining a healthy diet and weight
- Having adequate sleep
- Engaging in physical activity and exercise
Dementia can affect the quality of life and can lead to several complications such as:
- Inability to care for self and requiring assistance for eating, dressing, toileting, and bathing
- Difficulty eating and swallowing leading to malnutrition and dehydration
- Incontinence of stool and urine
- Increased infections in the body
- Change in sleep patterns
- Behavioural changes like irritability, arguing, and striking out behaviours
- Having hallucinations, delusions, depression, and agitation
- Forgetting long-term events as well as recent events and conversations
- Inability to recognize faces, familiar routes, and inability to predict danger
- Difficulty problem solving, performing basic tasks like cooking, driving, or balancing finances
- Difficulties with language, reading, writing, and speaking confusing sentences or inappropriate sentences
- Reduced life span
The prognosis of Dementia varies from individual to individual depending upon the age of the person, type of disease, and severity of the condition.
When to contact the doctor? / How to identify the complications?
A medical consultation is recommended after observing any changes in memory, attention, or behaviour.
Indications for hospitalization if required
As Dementia progresses, hospitalization may be required for appropriate care and management.
Screening methods include the following:
- Mini-mental status examination (MMSE)
- Abbreviated mental test score (AMTS)
- Modified mini-mental state examination (3MS)
- Cognitive abilities screening instrument (CASI)
- Trail-making test and the clock drawing test
- MoCA (Montreal cognitive assessment)
- Informant questionnaire on cognitive decline in the elderly (IQCODE)
- Alzheimer’s disease caregiver questionnaire
- General practitioner assessment of cognition
- Depression screening such as the neuropsychiatric inventory and geriatric depression scale
Suggested clinical specialists/ Departments to consult for this condition