What is Dementia?
Dementia is an overall term that describes symptoms of a decline in thinking skills or memory affecting one’s ability to complete everyday activities. Dementia is associated with brain cell death and damage. This damage affects the ability of brain cells to communicate with one another. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Other forms of dementia include vascular, post-traumatic, Lewy body, as well as dementia that occurs with Parkinson’s or Huntington’s diseases. Dementia can also be of mixed types. Dementia is NOT a normal part of aging.
Symptoms of dementia vary, but most include at least two of the following items impaired: memory, communication and language, focus and attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception. People with dementia most often have difficulty with short term memory, even if their long term memory is intact. At times, these symptoms are reversible if attributed to medication interactions, depression, vitamin deficiencies, or thyroid abnormalities. However, many dementias are progressive and will become worse.
With different forms of dementia, different parts of the brain are affected. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is often first damaged. This part of the brain is responsible for learning and memory and therefore, learning and memory are often first affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease cannot be changed such as age or genetics. However, there is research that demonstrates living a healthy lifestyle decreases the risk of dementia. The brain is nourished with blood and anything that damages blood vessels affects food and oxygen from reaching the brain. To keep blood vessels healthy, don’t smoke and keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and blood sugar all within healthy levels. Regular exercise also helps increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain. A healthy diet including minimal red meat and emphasizing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, shellfish, nuts and olive oil is also vital to keeping your brain healthy.
If you or a loved one is demonstrating signs of dementia, contact your doctor for an assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Therapy can also help by keeping you active and your blood vessels healthy. Therapists are also skilled in treating people as they experience a decline with dementia. If you need rehabilitation intervention, the therapy staff at Passavant Community can help. They are available on an outpatient basis by calling (724) 452-3492 or via home health services at (877) 862-6659.
For more information, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900 or www.alz.org.