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Dementia is classified as a breakdown of mental capacity as a result of organic deterioration, often caused by old age, chemical imbalance, or head trauma. Presenile dementia is the onset of dementia due to organic deterioration that is not a result of old age. In presenile dementia, patient's symptoms may begin appearing in individuals as young as 40 or 50, while standard dementia typically won't begin to present symptoms until after the age of 65.
The most common cause of presenile dementia is early onset Alzheimer's disease. This disease attacks the frontal lobe of the brain and slowly begins to breakdown organic brain matter, impeding or disabling the functions for which the frontal lobe of the brain is responsible. In most cases, symptoms will begin to appear slowly, gradually declining. The pace of the disease, however, tends to pick up quickly once full onset has begun, causing a steep decline in functional ability.
Presenile dementia has many debilitating side effects, often severely depleting the quality of life for the individual suffering from it. The most common side effect is memory loss, related to both events as well as people and places. Difficulty speaking and reading can also result from presenile dementia, as the brain is slowly losing it's ability to correctly form sentences and comprehend the written word. Moods can also be drastically affected, with depression being a common side effect along with loss of judgment skills and coping abilities. Finally, basic tasks such as taking care of one's self also become more and more difficult, with hygiene problems being a frequent occurrence.
The most common form of treatment for presenile dementia doesn't actually treat the disease itself. Doctors will often prescribe a variety of anti-depressants and other medications designed to correct chemical imbalances in the brain. The most common drugs used are those designed to boost the brain's serotonin production, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain which increases an individual's sense of well-being and overall mood. Medications intended for treating Attention Deficit Disorder may also be used, primarily given to counteract the impact on memory that presenile dementia presents in its earlier stages.
An average person suffering from presenile dementia will typically deal with a gradual onset of symptoms over an average of ten years. In rare cases, symptoms can progress from mild to severe in just a few years. Even with prescriptions designed to minimize the early symptoms of the disease, most patients will generally have an eight to ten year lifespan once symptoms begin to present themselves. The overall range, however, can be anywhere from three to 15 years.
@Laotionne - I can relate to the character from the book you mentioned who had early onset dementia. Anybody who has ever been around a family member or friend with this condition knows how difficult the disease is on the person who has it, and on everybody around her.
As much as I wouldn't want to put my family through that ordeal, I couldn't take my own life because you never know when medical science is going to find a cure or treatment that really works. Also, who knows what is actually going on in a person's head when she has dementia. Maybe there is something productive happening, but only that person is aware of what's going on.
I read a book about a man in his early 40s who started to have trouble remembering people and places. He thought he had a brain tumor. When he went to the doctor he thought the doctors were wrong when they said he had Alzheimer's disease. As much as he was dreading being told he had a brain tumor, he had a harder time accepting that he could have any type of dementia signs at his age.
As the disease progressed, he would have periods where he didn't know any of the people around him, and he couldn't reason. The good part was that he would also have periods where he was totally in control of his mental faculties.
For him, the disease progressed quickly and when he would come back to himself, he was aware he was losing a part of his mind. And this is the sad part. Rather than go through all of the stages of dementia and put his wife through the long process of watching him fade away, he killed himself during one of his lucid periods.
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