Medical experts say it is an illness that often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Unfortunately, the problem of Dementia is not going away; there is no cure, and cases are expected to triple by 2050.
According to the World Health Organization close to 36 million people around the globe live with dementia. Dementia is a brain disorder that is characterized by loss of memory, reasoning, judgment, as well as changes in mood and behavior. In severe cases the brain is affected to the point where it is impossible to carry out normal daily functions such as driving a car, working or maintaining relationships.
Age is the biggest risk factor, and the wave of baby boomers approaching the retirement years will be a big contributor to the rise in cases.
Doctors say early diagnosis is difficult, but crucial. In the early stages of the disease it is easy for the patient to pass the symptoms off as simple forgetfulness. Others are too afraid to come forward with what they are experiencing. They are worried about the repercussions; about losing their independence. They try to hide their problem from family, friends and physicians until it becomes impossible to cover up.
Early diagnosis allows doctors to work with patients to administer care and medications that could potentially slow down the progression of the disease. Doctors remind patients that there is no shame is bringing up mental health issues. They also point out that what seems like early signs of dementia could actually be Alzheimer’s disease, a condition which requires constant medical attention.
Since mental health disorders like dementia are difficult to diagnose, doctors use a number of methods during examinations. Below are steps they go through if they suspect dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
• Patient history (this includes current and past medical issues, as well as what symptoms are being experienced)
• Physical examination (this can help rule out treatable causes of memory loss and issues such as stroke. It can also help determine whether medication is causing your symptoms)
• Cognitive tests (measuring of your language, math and other mental skills)
• Neurological tests (this includes balance, reflexes, and sensory function)
• Brain scans (degeneration of the brain’s cortex is a sign of dementia and can show up on a brain scan)
There is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There are some medications that appear to slow the progression of the disease; however, in many cases doctors recommend a combination of medications, and physical and psychological exercise. Studies have shown that keeping active, engaging in conversation, reading and exercising your brain, can all help ease the severity of symptoms.
Drug therapies have to be monitored closely by doctors because they can often have unpleasant side-effects. A great deal of research continues into treatment therapies for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This research includes in depth studies on nutrients and how they can increase blood flow to the brain, thus slowing down disease progression. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre vitamin E has already been linked to slowing cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The University’s researchers also state that some studies show zinc improves memory in elderly people.
The person suffering from dementia has no control over the disease. Sufferers require patience and understanding from their care-takers, and often that starts with family members. Many dementia sufferers do well in their own homes if they have good support from family and friends. Others get to the point where they have to be housed in special care facilities. Mental Health experts say understanding the disease and the treatment options available will make life a lot easier for both the patient and care-giver.