What is Dementia?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Dementia is not a disease in and of itself, but rather a byproduct of other mentally degenerative conditions such as multiple strokes, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. In general, dementia is a nearly irreversible disintegration of all the higher thinking skills that keep us sane and sociable. A patient suffering from this condition can still see and hear, for example, but can no longer put all of the sensory information he or she receives together coherently. The person may form nonsensical sentences or experience complete memory loss.

An individual suffering from dementia may experience complete memory loss.
An individual suffering from dementia may experience complete memory loss.

This condition is often associated with the natural aging process, although its development among the elderly is not inevitable. Alzheimer's disease can destroy brain cells over time, which in turn leads to cognitive failures and eventually full-blown dementia. Some elderly people can also develop senior dementia without also contracting Alzheimer's. The forgetfulness of Alzheimer's sufferers is often replaced with the personality breakdown of a senior dementia patient. An Alzheimer's patient may still be able to perform essential functions, but a dementia sufferer often loses all ability to remain social.

An individual suffering from dementia may be unable to process sensory information in a coherent manner.
An individual suffering from dementia may be unable to process sensory information in a coherent manner.

Diagnosing dementia can involve a series of psychological tests measuring cognitive functions. Quite often, true dementia affects memory and executive decision skills first, followed by changes in personality and language difficulties. Only in its advanced stages do patients display the complete loss of time and space comprehension commonly associated with the disorder. Other diagnostic tests may look for signs of previous strokes or adverse drug interactions.

Risk of dementia increases with age.
Risk of dementia increases with age.

There is a precursor to dementia that mimics many of its symptoms. People who have been subjected to sleep deprivation, invasive surgeries, extended hospital stays or social isolation may develop delirium. Delirium can cause a loss of language comprehension, short-term memory loss and alteration of the sufferer's personality. Delirium can also devolve into the more serious first stages of dementia. Unlike this condition, however, many cases of delirium are reversible through drug regimens, counseling and stimulation of the brain.

Impairment with judgement and coordination are common symptoms of dementia.
Impairment with judgement and coordination are common symptoms of dementia.

Dementia is not considered curable at this point in time, but scientists are working to find a way to slow down the progression. Currently, most sufferers are treated in nursing homes and other extended care facilities.

Dementia and other cognitive disorders disrupt the brain's ability to process and store information.
Dementia and other cognitive disorders disrupt the brain's ability to process and store information.
Seniors with early-stage dementia may need help remembering to take medications regularly.
Seniors with early-stage dementia may need help remembering to take medications regularly.
Dementia can cause emotional issues in the elderly.
Dementia can cause emotional issues in the elderly.
Extreme changes in personality and behavior are common symptoms of dementia.
Extreme changes in personality and behavior are common symptoms of dementia.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon175954

Life is just a form of flesh and bones which is bound to disappear one day. There is always happiness when any new soul comes on this earth and sadness when the same leaves this deadly world. It is hard to believe but Jesus has his own plans for all of us and let him do what he wishes for.

My father passed away last month. He was suffering from adenocarcinoma. we gave him the best treatment we could give but all in vain. He slipped away from our hands and we could not do anything because it was God's will to take him away from us.

anon114754

Suecy, It saddens me that you pity people with dementia. My mother is in a wonderful home with such caring workers around her all day. My mother is a complete joy to be around, and they all love her dearly. She cannot remember what she had for lunch, but sure recognizes me when I enter the room.

I do not feel sorry for her. I spend a day a week with her and she makes me laugh and cry. My mother raised me and my sis by herself. She worked very long hard hours, she did not eat right, nor take vitamins. She was too tired to exercise.

I feel her dementia could have been brought on from diet, stress, and lack of mental and physical exercise. Bless her heart for raising me so well. So I am the lucky one with the memories, even though she doesn't have to worry about hers. Stay healthy and visit a wonderful home like my mom's and you won't have to feel pity. You will feel joy that you made someone smile! Sincerely, Karen

anon90659

There is no such thing as "Senior dementia." The term is "senile dementia." It is an umbrella term for group of symptoms.

There are also reversible types of dementia, mainly caused by such things as B12 vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems or even a urinary tract infection. Once these problems are cleared, the dementia symptoms may disappear.

However, the dementia symptoms that are irreversible indicate the presence of organic disease in the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia at 64 percent of all dementias, but there is no definitive differential diagnosis until autopsy.

It is not correct to say someone has Alzheimer's on symptoms of memory loss and cognitive impairment alone. It is sad that misinformation and stereotype continue to appear. Health literacy is our most valuable protection for ourselves. Diane, CSA

Suecy

Hopefully, there could be a cure of dementia. It's really awful to see a person suffering from it and I kind of pity them. You know, I would never want to imagine myself suffering this kind of illness. I would never want to forget my memories in the past.

You know guys, I've read an article that mostly women will get to suffer with these kind of illnesses! Yay, I hope that's not true. It says men are not as likely to suffer from this because they would not even reach an old age. The fact is women live longer than men.

laluna

It is an unfortunate progressive, and irreversible disease. Hopefully a cure will be found soon.

For now, it is believed that physical exercise, eating cruciferous vegetable and food with omega 3 fatty acid, as well as doing mental work like learning a new language will slow down or reduce the risk of the disease.

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