Key Points about Dementia
- Being older, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and being a smoker can increase your risks of developing dementia.
- Treatment for dementia may involve a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications, including seeing an occupational therapist.
- While there is no cure for dementia, there may be steps you can take to slow the progression and prepare for the progressively worsening symptoms.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes of dementia include:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Damage to the blood vessels that bring blood to your brain
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
Dementia risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk for developing dementia include:
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- Being over age 65
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Having a family history of dementia
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Having deficiencies of vitamins D, B-6, B-12 or folate
- Having depression
- Having Down syndrome
- Having high cholesterol
- Having hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Having sleep apnea
- Having uncontrolled diabetes
Signs and symptoms of dementia vary widely, and can include:
- Changes in personality
- Difficulty communicating
- Difficulty with planning and organizing home and events of daily life
- Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving
- Difficulty with visual and spatial tasks, such as getting lost in familiar places
- Inappropriate behavior
- Memory loss
Your neurologist may use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose dementia:
Physical examination. Your neurologist will perform a comprehensive physical exam, including asking questions about your personal and family health histories. Your specialist may also ask your spouse, adult children or other caregivers questions related to your dementia symptoms.
Memory and thinking tests. Your specialist may use these to check your memory and thinking skills.
Blood tests. Your neurologist may use blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause memory loss, such as a thyroid disorder or certain vitamin deficiencies.
Imaging tests. Your neurologist may order an imaging test – such as computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Treatment for dementia usually involves a combination of the following:
Medications. Your specialist may prescribe medicine – such as cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine – to help manage cognitive symptoms related to dementia. In some cases, antidepressants are used to help control the behavioral symptoms of dementia.
Lifestyle modifications. In many cases, the best thing loved ones can do for a person with dementia is to make modifications in the home environment to lessen the chances of daily struggling related to dementia. Creating structure and daily and weekly routines can help those with dementia function more normally.
Occupational therapy. Your neurologist may recommend you see an occupational therapist, who can help make your home environment safer and practice coping behaviors.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a neurologist for more specialized treatment.