Dementia is a term that describes the loss of cognitive function, usually because of damaged brain cells. It includes memory loss and at least one of the following: difficulty with language, impaired movement, and inability to plan and initiate appropriate behaviors socially or at work. People with dementia may not be able to care for themselves by getting dressed or eating; they may have trouble balancing their checkbook and may get lost in familiar settings.
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
Dementia usually occurs in elderly people, although it is not considered a normal effect of aging. Some kinds of vascular dementia may be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, and the two often occur together.
Other causes of dementia include:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your doctor will go over your symptoms and do a physical examination. However, since there is no test to diagnose dementia, your doctor will rely greatly on interviews with you and your family, especially to discover noticeable declines in mental and physical abilities. Depression is sometimes mistaken for dementia in older people, so your doctor should ask questions to rule that out. If your doctor suspects vascular dementia, your doctor may order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan to look at your brain.
There is no cure for either vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but there are some medications that may help slow the progression of the disease. It is important for both the person with dementia and the person’s caregiver to have a strong support system in place to deal with the emotional challenges of the disease.
Treatments are aimed at lessening the symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Treatment may include a combination of drug and psychiatric or behavioral therapies. If you are elderly, your doctor may pay close attention to the medications you take, because some drugs may cause confusion or delirium in older people. Exercise, both physical and mental, can slow the progress of dementia.
The following drugs have been approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease. They are also often used to treat vascular dementia. However, not everyone responds to these medications. Research is continuing to find better drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Cholinesterase inhibitors -- These drugs increase the amount of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, a messenger chemical that is involved in memory and judgment. Side effects can include nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea. This class of drugs includes
Memantine (Namenda) -- This drug works by regulating glutamate, a chemical messenger involved in information storage and retrieval in the brain. Side effects can include headache, constipation, confusion, and dizziness.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies may help treat dementia. If you are deficient in some nutrients, taking a supplement or getting more of that nutrient in your diet may help slow the progression of the disease. Many of the nutrients and herbs listed are used due to their supposed effects of increasing blood flow to the brain. Not surprisingly, many of them have a blood-thinning effect and therefore can interfere or accentuate the effects of blood-thinning medications. Dementia therapies, pharmaceutical or natural, should be used under the supervision of a qualified doctor.
Nutrition and Supplements
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider. Always tell your doctor about any herbs you may be taking.
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider remedies, based on their knowledge and experience, for treating dementia. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual. Some of the most common remedies used for dementia are listed below.
People with dementia usually require continuous care and monitoring by both a health care provider and family members.
Caregiver and patient education focusing on knowledge of the disease, health, and the patient's well being results in better patient care. Caregivers must also closely monitor patients to make sure they are taking medications appropriately.
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Review Date: 3/2/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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