Dementia is a broad term that includes many different diseases that affects a person’s brain function as listed below.
10 WARNING SIGNS
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language (i.e. difficulty finding right words and following a conversation)
- Disorientation as to time and place
- Impaired judgment (i.e. cannot make the right decision)
- Problems with abstract thinking (i.e. reduced ability to understand, think, remember, and reason)
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Changes in personality
- Loss of motivation or initiative
These symptoms will make it difficult to carry out daily task, such as cooking, driving, handling bills, shopping, and interaction with others.
The most common causes of declining brain function are due to dementia and stroke. Typically dementia is brain dysfunction that continues to worsen over time. We suspect this phenomenon is caused by abnormal proteins in the brain. Although the root cause of dementia is still uncertain, we do know that the risk of developing dementia is higher for individuals that have high blood pressure, high cholesterol level and/or have a lower educational level. Once diagnosed, the majority of dementia patients will exhibit a decline in their conditions over the next 10 years and ultimately will have to rely heavily on the care given by family members or nursing home. At the final stage, dementia can lead to death.
Dementia patients often experience subtle changes in their ability to think but do not always appear to be different than an ordinary healthy person. Dementia patient may not be aware of their problems so the information provided by family members and friends is critical. Irritability, anxiety, and depression may accompany dementia but is not necessarily experienced by everyone.
Dementia patients are more likely to suffer from depression or prolonged sadness. This condition may lead to eating problems, sleep problems, and unexplained pain. These symptoms are hard to cure and may be caused by the changes and loss of function in the brain. Early detection of depression in older people is critical because depression can be cured. Through treatment, the quality of life of patients with depression can be improved.
If you, or a family member, have experienced certain changes that may be signs of dementia, you should contact your family doctor for an evaluation. Doctors and nurses will ask you in detail about your health or your family member’s health to confirm a diagnosis. If required the doctor may arrange for further evaluation and assessment (e.g. CT scan), or referral to a specialist (e.g. geriatrician, neurologist, or psychologist). Your local health department and Alzheimer society can also provide you with information and services.
Content by Dr. Janet Kow, Geriatrician