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Dementia

Dementia is a medical condition that describes a wide range of symptoms describing a decline in memory or cognitive ability severe enough to hamper a person's ability to perform day to day activities.

Causes of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the single most common cause of primary dementia. However, contrary to the common misconception that dementia is always due to Alzheimer’s disease, a rapidly growing body of evidence points out that nearly a quarter of all primary dementias, especially those of pre-senile onset, are caused by diseases other than Alzheimer’s and that some of these so-called atypical dementias involve cognitive abnormalities in areas of brain other than the part concerned with memory.

The cause of Dementia is damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, our behavior, feelings and thinking can be affected. Different sections of the brain are responsible for different activities like memory, judgment and movement. When cells in a particular region are damaged, the functions associated with that region get affected.

Types of Dementia

Different types of dementia are associated with damage in particular regions of the brain and particular types of brain cell. For example, the brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain. In Alzheimer's disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. As the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged, memory loss is usually one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Treatment of Dementia

The cause of dementia determines the treatment to be prescribed. In the case of Alzheimer's disease and most progressive dementias, no cure or treatment has been found yet that can slow down or stop its progression. But there are drugs that have shown temporary improvement and hope. The same medications used to treat Alzheimer's are among the drugs sometimes prescribed to help with other types of dementias. Non-drug therapies have also shown alleviation in some symptoms of dementia and research is underway to study and come up with alternate cures and treatment.

Diet and nutrition play a very important role in treatment of dementia. Foods to eat in the daily diet should include fresh fruits and juices, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain cereals and breads, homemade yogurt, defatted soy flour, fish, oatmeal, sugar free and fat free foods, dried apricots, prunes and dates and almonds and walnuts in moderation. On the other hand while suffering from dementia foods to avoid include high fat meats like beef, lamb, steak and pork, hydrogenated vegetable oils, fatty and fried foods, caffeinated beverages and soft drinks, chocolates and other sugary foods and alcohol.

Exercising also helps by improving both symptoms and quality of life by increasing mobility and independence. It is believed that physically active people have a 'cognitive reserve' that is used when other areas of the brain are damaged.

An exercise routine for the elderly should be composed of:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Strength training
  • Balance training
  • Flexibility exercises

There are certainly challenges in treatment but the improvement in functioning and quality of life of the elderly make the challenges worthwhile.

Read more about Healthy Aging and some common myths about dementia Read about Management of Geriatric Syndromes Read more about Nutritional needs and metabolic syndrome associated with dementia
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Care of the Older Person

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About Our Doctor

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Dr Sitoh Yih Yiow is a consultant geriatrician who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1991. He obtained his Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom in 1996 and was awarded a Higher Manpower Development Programme (HMDP) fellowship by the Ministry of Health... Read more about our doctor