Dementia is best described as a loss of intellectual or cognitive (thinking) functions within the brain. Those who suffer dementia are, quite often, confused and easily irritated. They may not be able to recognize their family members of friends, they become lost, even in surroundings that should be familiar to them, and they gradually lose the skills, which they need, in order to live independently.
The term ‘dementia’ refers to a category of illnesses and conditions that affect the human brain; often characterized by the brain dysfunctions that they cause, dementias steadily rob their victims of memories and even the most common skills, causing them to give up their independence and rely, more and more, upon family and friends for even the most simple of tasks. The most common and well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease; a condition which is believed to effect 4-5 million people in the United States alone.
Defined as a progressive brain dysfunction, one of the most common symptoms of dementia is the state of confusion, which it creates in its victims. Even the word ’dementia’ means ’irrationality’ in Latin, and this goes a long way in explaining the frustration, unpredictability and irrational behavior that those suffering from it frequently express. In many cases, during the earlier stages of the disease, it will often cause the victim to become estranged from his or her family; ironic considering that, in most cases, they will eventually become solely dependant upon those they have ostracized.
Dementia is difficult to diagnose. Throughout life, we experience short periods of memory loss; forgetting names, directions, or that strange feeling when one steps into a room and suddenly forgets what they went in there for. Even at a young age, we experience this and, quite commonly, this is considered to be simply a sign of growing older when it occurs with greater frequency. Through the years, it has become the belief that, as one ages, we simply tend to forget things.
Of course, seeing as how dementia occurs gradually, for the most part, it is difficult to spot in its earliest stages. Quite often, it isn’t until move severe symptoms occur, that it is actually attributed to a form of dementia. Even then, doctors are usually only able to detect “possible” or “probable” cases of dementia, particularly when dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. In the case of most forms of dementia, a diagnosis must be determined based on a behavior study, rather than any definite testing; an EEG, brain scan, or tests involving other laboratory instruments cannot determine dementia. In many cases, the only true way of getting a definite diagnosis is to perform an autopsy after the person has passed away.
It is unknown what, exactly, causes dementia. It is believed that nerve cells are deadened, in areas of the brain that are vital to memory and there are many theories as to what might cause this. Recent research suggests that there may be a link to the gene that creates apolipoprotein in the human body, which helps to carry cholesterol in the blood. Considering some of the risk factors involved, it is believed that there may be a link between heart disease, cholesterol and dementia, though research is still inconclusive.
Stripping its victims of their memories, their independence, and their lives, dementia is a cruel and frightening disease. There is no way to stop dementia, once it begins, and there is no known cure for it, to date. Researchers do agree, however, that getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet will help to lessen your risks of getting dementia. If you think that you are at risk of developing this condition, take the steps now to protect yourself and those you love, not only through education, but also by promoting a safer and healthier lifestyle.
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