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Dementia praecox is a progressive mental disorder that affects a person's cognitive abilities. It can cause changes in attention, reasoning, and personality, and sometimes lead to bizarre delusions and hallucinations. The name of the disease means premature dementia, which references its tendency to affect much younger people than those who usually develop dementia symptoms. Most individuals who suffer from the disorder are teenagers or young adults. Dementia praecox was a common diagnosis in the past, but many professionals today prefer the term schizophrenia.
The exact causes of dementia praecox are not known, but most modern research suggests that genetics and environmental factors are both involved. People who have family histories of schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and other types of mental illness are at an increased risk of developing dementia praecox. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that mothers who are sick, injured or malnourished during their pregnancies are more likely to have offspring who eventually develop symptoms. The environment surrounding a young child can also play a role, as many teens and adults who acquire dementia praecox have personal histories of physical abuse, emotional trauma, and drug use.
The symptoms of dementia praecox can vary from person to person. In most cases, cognitive changes begin subtly and become more and more prevalent over a period of several years. A person might exhibit signs of disordered thinking, such as having trouble staying focused on a task or jumping from topic to topic in conversation without keeping any logical order. He or she may seem restless, anxious, defensive, or emotionless. Alienation from friends and family is common, and many people have major problems at work or school.
Delusions and hallucinations afflict some people with dementia praecox. A person may have very unrealistic beliefs, such as being sure that others are plotting against him. Visual, audible, and sensory hallucinations can cause a sufferer to lose base with reality entirely. In extreme cases, dementia can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
There are no direct medical tests to confirm dementia praecox, so a diagnosis is usually made by a psychiatrist based on reported symptoms and a careful psychological evaluation. Treatment decisions are made based on a patient's particular symptoms. Many people respond well to anti-psychotic drugs such as clozapine and chlorpromazine. Ongoing counseling and earnest support from friends, family, teachers, and coworkers are important elements in helping a person maintain a normal life. The condition cannot be cured, but many sufferers who stick to their treatment plans are able to function well in society.