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Understanding Dementia

By: Rickie Porter, P.D.

Many people have memory loss issues, but this certainly does not mean they have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.  There are many causes of memory problems.  If you or a loved one is experiencing memory concerns you should visit your doctor to learn the reason.  Some causes can be reversed.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease, but an overall term that describes a range of symptoms.  These symptoms are all associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills that reduce a person’s ability to perform their everyday activities.  Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of these cases.  Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common of dementia types.  There are many additional symptoms of dementia that are reversible, including thyroid problems and simple vitamin deficiencies.

shutterstock_75984286What are the Warning Signs of Dementia?

Many dementias are progressive.  If you, or a loved one, are experiencing memory difficulties or other changes in thinking skills you should see your doctor to determine the cause.  Some warning signs may include memory loss that disrupts your daily life, difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work, difficulty with time or place, problems with speaking or writing, poor judgement or decision making, and changes in personality.  Even if symptoms do suggest dementia, early diagnosis provides the maximum benefit from medications and treatments available to treat this condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia

Doctors are able to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other dementias based on careful medical history, physical exams, lab tests, and memory tests that show patient changes in thinking and functioning.  There is no one test to determine if a person has dementia, although doctors can make the diagnosis with a very high level of certainty.

While most changes in the brain that cause dementia are permanent, it’s important to remember that memory problems caused by conditions associated with depression, alcohol abuse, thyroid problems, or vitamin deficiencies may improve when the condition is treated.

Treatment of dementia is based on its cause.  In very progressive dementias, like Alzheimer’s, there are no treatments to slow its progression, but there are drug treatments to help manage and improve symptoms.  These same drugs are prescribed to help with symptoms of other types of dementias.  Please visit with your doctor or Collier pharmacist if you would like additional information about these medications to control dementia.

Can Dementia be Prevented?

Factors like age and genetics cannot be changed, but research continues on other risk factors to brain health and the prevention of dementia.  These risk factors are primarily cardiovascular health, physical fitness, and diet.

Cardiovascular Health: Anything that damages your blood vessels can damage your brain and deprive it of oxygen and vital nutrients.  You can protect your brain by not smoking, watching your diet and cholesterol, and keeping your blood pressure within a normal range by having it checked and taking medication if needed.

Physical exercise: Regular exercise may help lower the risk of some types of dementia.  Exercise provides benefits by increasing blood and oxygen directly to the brain.

Diet:  Heart healthy eating patterns may protect the brain as well.  Diets that emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil will help protect the brain.

Memory loss can be stressful, but there are treatments and preventions that are available.  Your Collier pharmacist will be happy to answer any questions you have regarding vitamins, medications for keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level, and prescriptions available for memory loss and dementia.