Forgetfulness, losing things from time to time, or having trouble recalling a name or word can be a normal part of life and aging. But when thinking or memory problems begin to interfere with everyday activities such as working, driving, preparing meals, or handling finances – it is time to see a doctor.
Dementia is a general term used for the loss of cognitive functioning – thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning. There are many different forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type of dementia. Nearly 6 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?
While one of the earliest symptoms of dementia is memory loss, dementia is more than just memory loss – it involves a loss of cognition, or the ability to think clearly.
Symptoms of dementia can vary and may include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking or communicating
- Problems with reasoning and judgement
- Changes in personality such as withdrawn, confused, or disoriented
- Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
- Forgetting the name of a close friend or family member
- Trouble handling money responsibly and pay bills appropriately
- Not being able to complete tasks independently
In some cases, dementia can coexist with or be confused with other mood disorders like depression, anxiety, late onset schizophrenia, etc. If a loved one is not interacting as much or seems withdrawn, a doctor can assess whether the patient suffers from dementia or is just depressed.
What are the risk factors for dementia?
Although the biggest risk factor to dementia is aging, it is not a normal part of aging. Genetics, family history, and race/ethnicity can also increase the risk for developing dementia. Other risk factors that can be addressed to reduce your risk:
• Poor heart health
• A lack of physical activity
• Poor diet
• Cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity
• Excessive alcohol use
Is it dementia or normal aging? How do you know?
A healthcare provider can perform tests on attention, memory, problem solving, and other cognitive abilities to determine what exactly is going on and whether the symptoms are caused by other factors like chronic pain or drug interactions.
Appalachian Regional Internal Specialists’, Dr. Chris Que, recommends bringing your family member in early if you have concerns – don’t wait until symptoms worsen. Dr. Que can perform a “mini mental test” to begin the investigation into the underlying issues, and then determine next steps. “Part of my job is to give clarity to loved ones about what’s happening to the patient,” says Dr. Que.
“I always tell patients and families to be proactive. When your car begins to show signs of breaking down, you bring it to a mechanic to find out what’s wrong. When it involves your mind and body, do the same – go ahead and make an appointment to get to the bottom of the symptoms before they get worse.”
Dr. Que has been practicing primary care Internal Medicine for over a decade. But first and foremost, he regards himself as a guide and educator, helping patients and their families understand what is normal aging and what symptoms may need additional medical attention. He welcomes the challenge of seeing complex geriatric patients.
What’s next? How is dementia treated?
Most types of dementia cannot be cured, but there are ways to manage symptoms.
- Medications. There are some drugs that may help to slow down the disease or treat other symptoms such as depression, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, or agitation. Avoid “fad” treatments like supplements and others. Sometimes they can make the condition worse.
- Occupational Therapy. Occupational therapy at the Rehabilitation Center can help to adapt the environment to support a person with dementia and can help to retain existing function for as long as possible.
For dementia, the goal is to slow the progression and make the patient as comfortable and self-sufficient as possible. Request an appointment with Dr. Que if you have concerns about a loved one. Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists is located at 148 Hwy 105 Extension, Suite 104 in Boone. Call (828) 386-2746 to make an appointment or request an appointment online at https://apprhs.org/appointment/.
Author: Madi Zaidel, CHES®
Madi is a Certified Health Education Specialist and is currently the Community Health Outreach Specialist for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Madi holds a degree in Public Health and is working on her master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition. Madi is passionate about health promotion, health education, and holistic well-being, and is an advocate for health at every size (HAES).
ARHS Health Outreach programs use evidence-based initiatives to promote healthy behaviors, prevent disease, and encourage disease management practices. For more information or to request a program, contact Madi at (828) 268-8960.
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