By John Deggendorf
As we age, we naturally have difficulty remembering things or finding the right words to say. This is normal. However, Dementia is not normal. The condition causes mental changes that make it difficult to function and carry out our normal lives, not just remember names and dates.
Dementia causes a decline in mental functioning, particularly memory, which makes what was once a simple task into an impossible challenge. There is difficulty finding the right words, and confusion sets in when there are too many tasks at once. There can be a change in personality that leads to aggression, paranoia, inappropriate or bizarre behavior, or depression.
Dementia in the elderly can take on two different forms; reversible and chronic. When symptoms are reversible, the short-term dementia has been caused by other illnesses or diseases. The National Institute on Aging has classified 100 conditions that can cause short-term dementia. These are often called “pseudodementias”, and are treatable. Some examples include:
Adverse reactions to Medications- Side effects mimicking dementia are most commonly caused by antiarthritic medications, anihypertensizes, neuroleptics, hypnotics, and sedatives. Make sure your doctor is monitoring all your medications, including over-the-counter.
Emotional Distress- Seniors face a tremendous amount of changes in their lives, sometimes abrupt. Retirement, loss of a loved one or pet, divorce, change in location; all of these can cause depression, anxiety, and can damage physical and mental health. Make sure your physician is informed of these stressors in your life.
Metabolic Disturbances- Electrolyte imbalances, hypoglycemia, hypercalcemia, hepatic diseases, pancreatic disorders, renal failure, or liver failure can also cause confusion and effect sleep, appetite, and emotional balance.
Hearing and Vision- Problems with sight and hearing can be misinterpreted as Dementia when a person loses the ability to fully perceive their surroundings as they used to. Perform hearing and eye examinations if this seems to be the case.
Nutritional Imbalances- Deficiencies of niacin, folate, thiamine, or riboflavin can create impairment of cognition. Clear markers of this include difficulty swallowing, chewing, or digesting food. Loss of the ability to smell, taste, or eat due to dentures or trouble shopping can all contribute to nutritional deficiencies.
Other possible causes of acute dementia include: Endocrine abnormalities, infections, Subdural Hematoma (blood clotting on the brain’s surface), brain tumors, and Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
There are also conditions that cause permanent cognitive dysfunction. They include: head traumas, Cerebral Degenerative Diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s chorea.
Full medical and neuro-phychological testing is needed to diagnose dementia. CAT scans and MRI’s are usually part of this process. Also the newer PET scans and SPECT scans, which are harder to find. These processes will find whatever may be a treatable cause of acute dementia.
Chronic and irreversible dementia requires special care, however. This usually comes in the form of Behavior management techniques, safety precautions within the home, and legal considerations like durable power of attorney. Care is often provided in the home, but in some instances special arrangements need to be made for out of home care.
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