Dementia is a widely used term to describe an acquired loss of memory and cognitive abilities in a previously healthy or normal individual. Dementia can affect a person’s ability to think, create, perceive and react to his or her surroundings. Most cases of dementia are linked to increasing age. In fact, one-third to one-half of persons over the age of 85 are affected. With the aging of America the number of patients with dementia will likely exceed 10 million by the year 2050 if no breakthrough treatments are found.
The most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, multiple infarct dementias, depressive or pseudo dementia, drug-induced brain dysfunction or encephalopathy (also called delirium), Parkinson’s disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus, and brain tumors or other space occupying lesions. These various types of dementia may require different medical approaches to care. A neurological specialist is most able to properly screen, diagnose, and treat dementias. Because of the complexities involved in the caring of persons with advanced dementia, a medical team approach to care is most valuable and effective.
In Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia in the older person, patients start to show cognitive and memory decline 20 years after the deposition of amyloid deposits begins. This abnormal accumulation of amyloid tissue is deposited in tissue of the brain clogging the normal synapses and interconnection of brain cells. The failure to transmit information from cell to cell causes brain dysfunction and symptoms of thinking and memory problems. Another protein that is involved in brain function is the tau protein. Researchers are still unclear about the precise way this protein affects the brain . The areas of the brain that are most affected by Alzheimer’s dementia are the temporal and frontal lobes, which are the parts of the brain that control short-term memory, personality, and executive thinking. Disruption in these areas also affects sleep patterns and cycles; therefore, another common symptom of dementia is insomnia and interrupted sleep. In dementia, patients do not get symptoms of paralysis, sensory loss, or blindness.
Vivian Carta Sanchez, NP