Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.
Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. So memory loss alone doesn’t mean you have dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults, but there are a number of causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms can be reversed.
Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause, but common signs and symptoms include:
• Memory loss, which is usually noticed by a spouse or someone else
• Difficulty communicating or finding words
• Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving
• Difficulty handling complex tasks
• Difficulty with planning and organizing
• Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
• Confusion and disorientation
• Personality changes
• Inappropriate behavior
Dementia can affect many body systems and, therefore, the ability to function. Dementia can lead to:
• Inadequate nutrition. Many people with dementia eventually reduce or stop their intake of nutrients. Ultimately, they may be unable to chew and swallow.
• Pneumonia. Difficulty swallowing increases the risk of choking or aspirating food into the lungs, which can block breathing and cause pneumonia.
• Inability to perform self-care tasks. As dementia progresses, it can interfere with bathing, dressing, brushing hair or teeth, using the toilet independently and taking medications accurately.
• Personal safety challenges. Some day-to-day situations can present safety issues for people with dementia, including driving, cooking and walking alone.
• Death. Late-stage dementia results in coma and death, often from infection.
ntion, problem-solving, movement, senses, balance, reflexes and other areas.
• CT or MRI. These scans can check for evidence of stroke or bleeding or tumor or hydrocephalus.
• PET scans. These can show patterns of brain activity and if the amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, has been deposited in the brain.
Simple blood tests can detect physical problems that can affect brain function, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland. Sometimes the spinal fluid is examined for infection, inflammation or markers of some degenerative diseases.
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