According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are approximately 5.7 million people living with dementia in the United States. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells and it impacts the normal function of the brain. This damage can interfere with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other, thus impacting communication, thinking, feelings and behavior.
There are several risk factors for dementia including age (especially after age 65), family history, diabetes (or uncontrolled blood sugar), depression, and prior head injury.
In addition, smoking and excessive alcohol use, and patients with down syndrome (roughly 30 percent of people with Down syndrome develop dementia by age 50-years old) have a higher risk of dementia and Alzhiemer’s disease. Doctors diagnose dementia based on a careful medical history assessment, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and observing changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type.
Symptoms of dementia vary by person and stage of the disease, and not all patients may experience every symptom. Knowing the early warning signs and symptoms of dementia can assist in identifying the disease:
1. Memory loss
People with dementia will experience problems with short-term memory. Patients may have issues keeping track of personal items like their wallet or purse, keeping track of bills, preparing meals and remembering appointments.
2. Behavior and personality changes
A person with dementia may experience mood swings or personality changes. They may become irritable, depressed, fearful or anxious. They also may become less social or anxious with crowds and in public settings.
3. Cognitive problems and impaired decision making
Patients may experience problems with visual information. They could find it harder to read, judge distances and distinguish colors. People with dimension may have problems making simple decisions such as what to wear in hot or cold weather and following simple directions can prove to be challenging.
4. Confusion about time and place
It’s normal to occasionally forget appointments, only to remember them later. A person with dementia may forget things more often or not remember them at all.
5. Sleeplessness and restlessness
While disrupted sleep can contribute to poor memory, nighttime awakenings themselves may be an indication that someone is already affected by dementia.
6. Communication and speech problems
Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with dementia may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words. They may also have trouble understanding others.