Dementia

Chronic degenerative changes causing impaired memory, -orientation, and -intellectual function. The cause is degeneration of brain cells. The condition can also be caused by poisoning and be transitory if the brain cells are still intact.

Dementia is the designation of a condition in which the mental faculty is impaired. Calcification of the arteries can occur but this is far from always the case. Dementia can appear at all ages and have various causes. Senile dementia signifies that the disease sets in at old age.

The symptoms of dementia are a failing memory resulting in the elderly person telling the same things and stories over and over again. They can also have problems finding their way home and difficulties remembering the date, month, and year. A reduced ability to concentrate occurs, as well as irritability, suspiciousness, jealousy, and a tendency to talking nonsense, inventing sequences of events, and language disturbances. Pronounced forgetfulness, e.g. around meals, dressing, and hygiene. Altered personality, a lack of interest in the surroundings, a tendency towards isolation, and restlessness and anxiety.

The great majority of the various kinds of dementia can be counteracted or improved, possibly even totally disappear. The reversible kinds mostly constitute the confusion states resulting from a lack of fluid, malnutrition, sleeping pills and other kinds of deadening medicine, alcohol, loneliness, depression, other diseases, prolonged hospitalization, and the fact that other people will remember things for the elderly person causing him/her to use his/her memory less. A generic term for these conditions is pseudodementia.

True dementia (cerebral atrophy) can be observed in Alzheimer's disease which usually makes an early début and has a progressive course. True dementia also occurs in relation to blood clots, cerebral haemorrhage, stroke, and in severe poisoning, e.g. alcohol-, solvent-, medicine-, or heavy metal poisoning.

Furthermore, after severe concussions with accompanying brain damage and in metabolic disturbances which are not discovered and treated. Some people have an inherited predisposition for dementia. It is extremely important that presumed demented individuals are thoroughly examined (dementia investigation) and examined for other kinds of diseases and lack of important nutrients as well.

The typical development of dementia, and particularly pseudodementia, is that other people intervene in the demented person's life and take over tasks, e.g. in the home, decide things for him/her, do things for him/her, and act as the affected person's memory. However, the brain needs to be used in order to remain its function. In addition to this is the above mentioned problems with a lack of fluid, poor diet, sleeping pills, deadening medicine, alcohol, etc.

Recommendations

General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

Prevention
The development of dementia can be delayed or kept away by being interested in what goes on around you, by interfering, reading, and talking to others about things you have read or seen on TV. Moreover, you could be improving your memory by writing down your memoirs - e.g. all the way back from your childhood and up to present time - and by continuing to keep a journal.

It is also a good idea to sit in the dark at the end of the afternoon or evening and reproduce your day to yourself and get a chance to think things through. With ageing, meditation is a good remedy against impaired memory and a reduced ability to concentrate. Being able to concentrate on one single thing or nothing sharpens the cerebral function and releases the subconsciousness to working on all the things you need to remember and be in control of.

In case of true dementia, the nearest relations are often in need of help and relief as living with a demented person is a great strain. The demented person slowly becomes a whole other person than the one you used to know and often requires a lot of attention and supervision in order not to get hurt or lost.

In many cases, both the demented person and his/her spouce is best off with the demented person being admitted to a protected area of a nursing home in which a safe and stimulating environment can be created. In many places, groups of people have come together to help demented people manage their everyday life, as well as activity centres exist where demented people can perform various activities.

The development of dementia can be delayed by keeping the demented person physically active through going for walks or dancing with them, for example. Music and motion counteract dementia. If you pay a visit to a demented person, these cab be good ways of spending the time.

Look after the demented person and provide love and care. It is necessary to be extremely patient as a friend or relation; peace around conversations and establishing eye contact is important. It is also important to talk slowly and clearly, preferably about subjects that have been agreed on, and to keep the conversation about present incidents or to only talk about old times.

Starting to train your memory is never too late. Experience shows that if you make a demented person do things that they used to do or enjoy, e.g. housekeeping, they will become happier and more secure and their general functioning will improve.

It is also important to the demented person that their home is arranged in such a way that they know where to find everything. Too much reorganization of things and surroundings should as far as possible be avoided. Habits equal security. Avoid too many different people coming into contact with the demented person who will be more secure around a few known faces.

Through a technique called mental stimulation, the cerebral function can be improved. It consists of taking a starting point in childhood and old times and then slowly talking your way all the way up to present time.

It is not the number of brain cells that is important but how you use them and make them create new connections with each other as these connections are the ones that are the foundation of memory. Good techniques for improving your memory can be learned.

The diet is highly significant to the brain. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is also rich in antioxidants (vitamin C and -E, selenium, and zinc) and manganese which is important to cerebral activity. Spinach contains folic acid which can counteract dementia and depression. Many elderly people are deficient in folic acid.

Tea a chocolate contain antioxidants which are of vital significance to the brain and the spirit in general. B-vitamins, vitamin E, and moderate amounts of red wine can also be recommended. Ginkgo biloba seems to be able to counteract worsening of the dementia in Alzheimer's disease.

Remarks

Also see "Alzheimer's disease", "Common age-related changes", "Down's syndrome", and "Heavy metal poisoning".