What is Dementia?

Dementia is a descriptive term for an assortment of symptoms that can be caused by disorders that affect the brain. It is not a specific disease itself and until an underlying disease or disorder has been identified it is not a clinical diagnosis. Dementia is a brain disorder that impairs the intellectual functioning of the brain and makes it hard for people to remember, learn, solve problems or communicate. It interferes with normal activates and relationships and those with Dementia may experience personality changes or behavior problems, such as depression, agitation or other disruptive behavior.

It is not a normal part of aging, but the chances of developing Dementia do increase with age. Mild cognitive impairments, such as poorer short-term memory, can develop as a normal part of aging. This is known as age-related cognitive decline, not Dementia, because it does not cause the person or the people around them any difficulties. Dementia can be clinically diagnosed when two or more types of symptoms are severe enough to affect an individual’s daily activities.

Symptoms classed as mild cognitive impairment, which are not a normal part of aging, do not qualify as Dementia either, since these symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with daily activities. However, for some people the milder disease can lead to Dementia later on.

Currently there are more than 50 conditions that mimic or cause the symptoms of Dementia and research shows that these conditions account for over 20% of “Dementia” cases. Many of these conditions are reversible if they are treated before permanent damage occurs. Getting the right diagnosis and reporting any early signs to your doctor are important to ensure the proper treatment of Dementia or any condition with Dementia like symptoms.

What causes Dementia?

Dementia involves the damage or death of brain cells which can occur in multiple areas of the brain. Depending on the area of the brain affected it can affect people differently and it can worsen over time.  Dementia can be caused by repetitive head injuries, some types of traumatic brain injuries, stroke, brain tumor or a disease such as Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s can all damage brain cells and lead to Dementia.

The causes of some Dementias are easier to understand in terms of how they affect the brain and lead to Dementia:

  • Vascular Dementia – results from brain cell death caused by conditions such as a stroke. This deprives the brain of oxygen and prevents normal blood flow.
  • Brain Injury – post-traumatic Dementia is directly related to brain cell death and is caused by an injury to the brain.

Other causes of Dementia include toxic reactions to medications, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, brain and spinal cord infections, insulin resistance, metabolic disorders and severe depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

Symptoms of Dementia can vary greatly and become more progressive. Common signs of Dementia may include:

  • Short-term memory loss or confusion
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Difficulty doing normal activities
  • Impaired communication or language issues
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking
  • Impaired judgment
  • Inappropriate behavior or personality changes
  • Gait, motor, and balance problems
  • Neglect of personal care and safety
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, agitation

Diagnosing Dementia

Anyone presenting with memory and concentration complaints should have a complete workup of common and uncommon causes of Dementia. As part of an advanced workup for Dementia the exams and testing we order include those that catch uncommon and reversible causes of Dementia, which may affect over 20% of those diagnosed with Dementia.
Typical exams and testing used to diagnose Dementia include:

  • Focused neurological exams and neurocognitive testing to aid in diagnosis of Dementia and memory disorders
  • Comprehensive blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis to uncover infectious, autoimmune, metabolic and nutritional causes for Dementia and memory loss
  • Comprehensive genetic testing and genome sequencing to assess for uncommon gene risk factors for Dementia and memory loss
  • Advanced MRI studies that incorporate structural and functional analyses which are used to uncover specific patterns reflecting Dementia or other causes of memory loss
  • PET scanning techniques used to visualize proteins associated with Alzheimer’s Dementia

Depending on the cause of the Dementia treatment may not restore cognitive function but it can stop the Dementia from worsening and possibly prevent other complications.

The neurologists at our office specialize in diagnosing and treating patients with Dementia and utilize some of the most advanced diagnostic tools available to accurately diagnosis and treat patients with Dementia. If you or a loved one has developed symptoms associated with Dementia or been diagnosed with Dementia our neurologists can ensure that the diagnosis is correct and offer the most aggressive Dementia treatments available. Contact one of our neurologists to schedule an appointment 310-829-5968.