Senile dementia is a disease caused by degeneration of the brain cells. It is different from normal senility in the elderly in that the patient's brain function will gradually deteriorate resulting in progressive loss of memory and mental abilities, and noticeable personality changes.
Causes and DevelopmentDementia
is always caused by an underlying disease or condition. Brain tissue is damaged, and functioning is diminished. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease
, a progressive brain disorder causing deterioration in memory and thought processes.
- Alzheimer's disease
- Vascular dementia, the second most common cause of dementia, accounting for up to 20% of all dementias
- Huntington disease, a progressive degenerative disease that causes dance-like movements and mental deterioration
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
- Multiple sclerosis, a disorder of the sheath that lines the brain and spinal cord
- HIV, the immunodeficiency disorder that leads to AIDS
- Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of part of the nervous system
- Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressing degenerative disorder of the nervous system causing problems with walking, talking, and the senses
- Pick's disease, a disorder of the brain that causes slowly progressing dementia
- Viral or bacterial encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain
- Lewy body disease, a degenerative disease of the nervous system
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus, or increased cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
- Chronic subdural hematoma, or bleeding between the brain lining and brain tissue
- Brain tumor
- Wilson disease, a rare disease causing an accumulation of copper in the liver, brain, kidneys, and corneas
- Neurosyphilis, an infection of the nervous system by the syphilis bacteria, which causes weakness and mental deterioration
- Progressive supranuclear palsy, also known as Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, a rare disorder of late middle age that causes widespread neurological problems.
Certain abnormalities of a person's metabolism or hormones may also be responsible for the development of dementia, including the following:
In some of these cases, dementia can be reversed by removing the toxic agent or bringing vitamin levels back to normal.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms at the early stage include the following:
- Forgetting recent events (distant memories also fade as the disease progresses)
- Experiencing difficulty in reasoning, calculation, and accepting new things
- Becoming confused over time, place and direction
- Impaired judgment
- Changes in personality
- Becoming passive and losing initiative.
Symptoms at the middle stage include the following:
- Losing cognitive ability, such as the ability to learn, judge, and reason
- Becoming emotionally unstable, and easily losing temper or becoming agitated
- Needing help to simply live from day to day
- Confusing night and day; disturbing others' normal sleeping time.
Symptoms at the later stage include the following:
- Losing all cognitive ability
- Becoming entirely incapable of self-care, including eating, bathing, and so on
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Losing weight gradually
- Walking unsteadily and becoming confined to bed.
Treatment and PreventionSenile dementia
that is caused by depression
, poor nutrition, thyroid
dysfunction, drug poisoning, alcoholism, and so on, can often be corrected by treating the underlying problem.
Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia are degenerative diseases, and up to now there is no effective treatment. It is best to recognize the symptoms early and be diagnosed and assessed by a doctor. There are currently some medications available to slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease.
If you recognize the symptoms of senile dementia in a family member, these steps should be taken:
- Consult your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.
- Join a family support group for senile dementia patients. This will help to ease the pressure of looking after the patient through sharing of experience.
- Take advantage of social services such as day care centers for the elderly.
- Explain your loved one's illness to your relatives and neighbors to gain their understanding and support.
- Make alterations in your home environment to prevent accidents.
- Establish a daily routine for the patient to reduce his or her feelings of confusion.
- Have the patient wear a wrist bracelet labeled with his name and telephone number. Always have a recent photo of the patient at home so that it will help to find him if he or she gets lost.
There is up till now no effective way to prevent Alzheimer's disease. However, multi-infarct dementia is caused by damaged blood vessels, and can be prevented through healthy living habits.