Definition of Dementia
According to Wikipedia, Dementia is a serious loss of global cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It may be static, the result of a unique global brain injury, or progressive, resulting in long-term decline due to damage or disease in the body. Although dementia is far more common in the geriatric population, it can occur before the age of 65, in which case it is termed “early onset dementia”.
Now, let’s define what is dementia in layman’s terms. Dementia represents a syndrome consisting of signs and symptoms of memory loss, difficulty with common language, problem solving and the inability to concentrate. As seen in the definition above, it may be due to a brain injury (think of the number of boxers and football players that suffer with dementia) or it may be due to a progressive disease, such as Alzheimer’s. Dementia is NOT a disease, it is a group of symptoms that motivate family members to take their loved one to the Doctor and it provides Health Care Providers the information needed to then test and diagnose the patient with the cause of dementia. Obviously, dementia is more common in the elderly but make no mistake about it, it can affect adults of any age.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
The symptoms of dementia vary greatly from individual to individual, but overall, there must be at least two of what we call ‘core mental functions’ significantly impaired before we will call it dementia:
- Reasoning and judgment
- Ability to focus
- Visual Perception
So, if you have a family member that is forgetting things such as where they put their car keys or billfold, how to prepare their favorite dish, important events or appointments or can’t remember how to get to work, they are having significant enough symptoms that warrant a visit to their Health Care Provider. If they are demonstrating word finding difficulty (can’t call a cup of coffee a cup of coffee) or they can’t stay focused on a task such as paying bills, they need a work up. With impaired visual perception, you may notice that they will try to place a glass down and miss the table, if this continues to occur it warrants a visit to their Health Care Provider.
When a work up is done, which should consist of comprehensive lab, complete history and physical exam, a mini mental state exam (also known as MMSE), and a CT Scan or MRI of the brain, a diagnosis of a disease that is causing the dementia will likely be determined. This could include Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Lewy-body dementia or Frontotemporal dementia.
If you need help learning how to care for a loved one with a form of dementia, see the Dementia Caregiver Video Course.