What Is Dementia?

Public article

By Jane Verity ©dementiacareinternational.com

Dementia is not a disease, but rather an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms that may accompany or indicate certain diseases or conditions. Today over 60 different conditions are known to cause dementia symptoms. Symptoms may include impaired memory and confusion, difficulty in performing day-to-day or familiar tasks, and changes in personality, mood, and behaviour. When caused by disease or injury, dementia is usually irreversible; however, the symptoms may be reversible when caused by treatable conditions, such as: dehydration, constipation, infection, vitamin deficiencies and imbalances, pain, medication poisoning, brain tumours or depression.

What is the Difference Between Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease?

Dementia is not a disease, but a broad term to cover a group of symptoms; the most common being memory loss.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disease accounting for between 50 – 70% of all cases. To date, there is no medical cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s. Medical treatments available today can only prolong a stage of dementia for a certain period of time with varying success depending on the product and the individual. It is important to be aware that despite the amazing assessment tools available today, it is still not possible to truly diagnose Alzheimer’s until an autopsy has taken place. Also, in many situations there is no direct link between the person’s neurological changes and the degree of dementia symptoms they may experience.

Below are some examples of curable or reversible conditions:

  • Dehydration can cause confusion and increased memory loss – both symptoms of dementia.
  • Constipation
  • Infection. e.g. pneumonia, urinary tract infection or even the smallest infection can cause dementia symptoms.
  • Vitamin imbalance. Imbalance or lack of ‘brain vitamins’ such as C, E, B6, B12 and folate (folic acid) can also cause dementia symptoms. High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and also Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Adequate intake of vitamin B and folate can help reduce homocysteine levels.
  • Pain – can cause dementia symptoms.
  • Medication poisoning. This can occur easily in older people because their bodies are less able to excrete surplus medication, which can build up in the system and create side effects, such as: bewilderment, confusion and amnesia; all symptoms of dementia.
  • Brain tumours – (that can be removed) benign as well as malignant.
  • Depression can also cause symptoms similar to dementia, such as decreased memory and concentration loss; often leading to misdiagnosis.

Once any of the above existing conditions have been cured, the dementia symptoms are likely to disappear or return to the level they were at before the condition appeared.

Medical research has not yet been able to find any treatment or preventatives for the following conditions:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia) is a result of damage and changes to nerve cells within the brain. These abnormalities are referred to as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles which can ultimately destroy nerve cells.
  • Vascular dementia or multi-infarct dementia (the second most common cause of dementia) and more commonly known as stroke, is a result of the blood supply to the brain being cut off due to clotting or blood vessels bursting in the brain, (aneurism) destroying surrounding tissue and triggering strokes.
  • Lewy Bodies dementia (the third most common cause of dementia) is a result of a build-up of Lewy bodies – accumulated bits of alpha-synuclein protein – inside the areas of the brain that control particular aspects of memory and motor control. The dementia symptoms are characterised by pronounced fluctuations in mood with periods of confusion, followed by greater lucidity, and disturbed visual experiences.
  • Excessive alcohol intake or Korsakov Syndrome is associated with prolonged alcohol use characterised by personality changes and short term memory loss.
  • Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FLTD) including Pick’s disease is caused by a degeneration occurring in one or both of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain resulting in significant behaviour and personality changes.
  • Other less common causes of dementia include Huntingdon’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Early Signs of Dementia

The first signs and changes in a person with dementia may be scarcely noticeable as most often they come on gradually. (Except in cases like multi-infarct dementia, which takes a more step-like decline.) The person or family may initially only notice memory lapses, such as difficulty in remembering dates or finding the right word. The person may use impaired judgement resulting in financial or ill-considered decisions. Behaviour and personality changes may occur too, such as becoming more assertive/more withdrawn, less flexible; showing a loss of interest in things that have mattered previously, becoming absent minded or repeating the same story or question.

Each person will be affected in his or her own unique way, and also dependent on the type or cause of his or her dementia. It is important to avoid foretelling the future or embracing all the pessimistic possibilities you may hear or read of because such negative predictions may well result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fact that some brain cells die or that there has been a deterioration of brain cells resulting in the onset of dementia does not mean the path ahead has to be all downhill. Some research studies show that there is no correlation between the severity of brain damage and the extent to which a person is generally affected by the dementia process.

Research into the brain also shows that even though some brain cells may die, the brain has the capability to repair itself, creating new networks and pathways to link information stored in cells that are still functioning. There is much excitement in the scientific world about the possibility of nerve regrowth in the brains of people with dementia.

We know through experience that people with dementia have a fabulous ability to develop new strategies and behaviours to compensate for what they have lost. Positive responses to and interpretations of these changes, strategies and behaviours can be a matter of attitude, both in the person and those of their supportive partners or “carers”.

Often, after a dementia diagnosis, focus fixes only on the person’s symptoms and behaviour rather than on his or her needs. With this daunting diagnosis, it can seem that there is not much that can be done and it can be very hard to maintain a positive attitude. However, if we shift our focus and energy to the person’s strengths and remaining abilities, it will help us to keep a positive attitude and influence both the way we care and how the person we support will feel and respond to us.

The first step is to switch our thinking from – dementia as resulting from an irreversible, degenerative disease of the brain without a cure. (A very negative picture); To: – dementia resulting from a disability of certain parts of the brain. We need to remember that the rest of the person is still alive, feeling, sensitive and responsive. There are many possibilities to work with to help the individual improve, blossom and grow. By focusing on all that the person can still do, we can help ensure meaningful, positive and fulfilling lives for those we support.

When we open up to possibilities instead of the forecast probabilities, a whole new dimension can develop in relationships between either you and the person who supports you or you and the person you support.

For Further Reading

  • Symptoms & Stages – Public Article – (The 4 stages of dementia & why they should only ever serve as guides; read examples of how people with dementia compensate for missing memories, their wonderful language & the meanings behind certain gestures & body language.)
  • 3 Powerful Myths about Dementia – Public/Extended Members article  – (We dispel 3 powerful and harmful myths about dementia, discover the one thing people with dementia & children do have in common;  helpful tips to find out what people with dementia do like/need & learn the 5 points critical to storing long term memories.)
  • How to Help People with Dementia Improve – Public/Extended Members article – Jane Verity (Learn the first step to assisting a person with dementia to improve; how our focus determines the experience;  how beliefs are maintained; learn how our brain operates a clever filtering system plus more on NLP.)
  • The Nun Study – Public/Extended Members article – Jane Verity (Dr. David Snowdon’s amazing research findings showing that some of the participating nuns revealed brains riddled with the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease, yet showed no symptoms of dementia.)
  • How can Aromatherapy Help People with Dementia? – Members Article – E. Joy Bowles BSc. (How the sense of smell is non-verbal & can get through to emotions when words fail; the use of smells to orient people with dementia to time & space; tips for choosing & using the right oils to lessen anxiety, agitation & depression.)
  • Brahmi – The Traditional Ayurvedic Brain Tonic – Members article – Dr Ruth Cilento – (How Brahmi improves learning processes & memory; how it works; who can benefit; why brahmi is particularly therapeutic for the elderly, plus more on its health benefits.)
  • Gingko Biloba – Members article – Dr Ruth Cilento – (The many healing properties of Gingko Biloba; its positive effects on memory & learning abilities & for arresting symptoms of dementia.)
  • The Garbage Run Miracle – Members article – Colin’s amazing real-life story of improvement.

Relevant Resources:

10 Top Memory Tactics – See our Product Page