What Is Dementia?

If your parent or other loved one has only recently begun to suffer lapses in memory or moments of impaired judgment, it can be easy to attribute each slip of the tongue or scuffed car bumper to a “senior moment” or other minor blip in an otherwise healthily functioning brain.

When this is the case, a formal diagnosis of dementia can hit you like a ton of bricks. What can you do to assist your relative in navigating through this process? Read on to learn more about dementia and what you may be able to expect when dealing with a close family member in the early stages of this degenerative disease.

How does dementia begin to manifest itself?

Although the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are often used interchangeably to describe the medical conditions leading to major memory loss during aging, generalized dementia can be a much less severe — and less fatal — diagnosis. Dementia encompasses a fairly broad umbrella of symptoms and can be caused by a variety of factors, from multiple head injuries (as are common among football and rugby players) to conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

In many cases, the specific cause of dementia can be readily identified through a blood test or a physical exam; however, some cases may remain a mystery even to your relative’s doctor, particularly those that involve a combination of different dementia-causing factors.

The earliest signs of dementia (along with the speed and progression of dementia) can vary widely depending upon the cause — but may not always appear to be related to memory lapses. If you’ve noticed your parent displaying uncharacteristic bouts of anger, high levels of anxiety (including coping mechanisms like hoarding or compulsive shopping), or completely inappropriate social behavior, these personality changes are likely the result of the physical changes dementia has wrought on certain portions of your parent’s brain.

Although it can be difficult to watch your loved one go through these changes (not to mention the heartache that comes with occasionally bearing the brunt of his or her misplaced anger or frustration), the types of behavior being displayed and your parent’s reactions to certain common triggers can often provide his or her doctors with much-needed information on the parts of the brain being affected. Documentation of your parent’s outbursts or uncharacteristic behavior can help treatment providers rule out certain causes and design treatment regimens that will help target the root issue and potentially even restore some of your parent’s lost memory.

Categories: General Information and Resource Center.

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