Dementia is a behavioral health issue that used to be known as senility and believed to be a normal part of aging. Today, we know that dementia is not part of normal aging but caused by a number of medical conditions. According to statistics, dementia affects about 1 percent of those in the sixties and 30 to 50 percent of those over 80. It’s the leading reason for placing older people in institutions like nursing homes.
Reversible and Non-Reversible Causes of Dementia in the Elderly
Many medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms, especially in older people. Nutritional deficiencies, strokes, infections and drugs are just a few of the medical conditions that can cause dementia in older people. Dementia is really a dysfunction in the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain controls language, memory, perception and thoughts. When the cause has not permanently damaged the cortical tissue in the brain, the dementia may sometimes be reversed or completely stopped.
An example of a non-reversible cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. With this disease, the brain cells are actually destroyed by abnormal protein deposits. Another characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is low levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. This disease is not reversible and has no known cure. Currently, there are certain medications to slow its progression.
Dementia is categorized as early, intermediate and severe. Each category has its own symptoms.
- Early Dementia: This stage of dementia often starts out with word-finding difficulty and forgetting names. There may also be difficulty performing usual tasks, such as cooking a meal or completing household chores. With regards to behavioral health, there may be mood swings, suspiciousness and uncharacteristic behavior.
- Intermediate Dementia: In intermediate dementia, there is a worsening of symptoms seen in early dementia. Symptoms include paranoid delusions, agitation and the inability to learn new information. Those in this stage may be unable to carry out activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing.
- Severe Dementia: Often, those in the severe dementia stage are completely dependent on others for daily living activities. There may even be a complete loss of both short-term and long-term memory. Some are even unable to recognized close family members or friends.