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What Is Dementia?

Authors: Deb May, Jay Tusten

Dementia, by definition, is a behavioral diagnosis indicative of a generalized intellectual deficit. Dementia is not a disease, but rather a sign of a pathology. Dementia may, in some cases, be reversible. Therefore, it is important to determine the underlying cause of the dementia.

Dementia and related aging changes are the most common of all neurobehavioral syndromes. According to Behavioral Neurology, A Practical Approach, written by Howard S. Kirshner, M.D., "as many as 10 to 15 percent of persons over age 65 have detectable intellectual deterioration, and 5 percent have dementia severe enough to interfere with self-care. Dementia accounts for approximately half of the million patients confined to nursing homes in the United States, and the economic loss brought about by early retirement and medical and custodial care runs into the billions of dollars."

Dementia can result from structural lesions, diffuse inflammatory processes, metabolic disturbances, progressive central nervous system diseases, chronic intoxications from drugs and/or alcohol, and as a related feature of various psychiatric disorders.

The disease most commonly associated with dementia is Alzheimer`s Disease. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult to distinguish from the normal aging process. Alzheimer`s is, at present, an irreversible, progressive disease that results in profound dementia in its later stages. The disease causes a degeneration and loss of nerve cells, particularly in the areas of the brain essential for memory and cognition.

The symptoms most often associated with Alzheimer`s Disease are memory loss, failure to recall names, visual perception problems, as well as decreased insight and judgement. In the late stages of the disease, severe language, memory, and visual perception deficits are common and the person becomes incapable of self-care.

The treatment of Alzheimer`s Disease is limited. Familiar surroundings with family members nearby and with frequent orientation cues such as calendars seems to keep persons with the disease functioning optimally for the longest periods.

   
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