Health Notes: March 2016
● Published by Aimee Cormier
by Ellen S. Mullen M.D.
Many aspects of our health are affected with aging. One of the most vital and significant aspects is our mental capabilities. At the early age of 20 years old persons begin to lose brain cells and decrease the amount of chemicals needed for one’s brain cells to work. These are all normal changes that occur as we age. Dementia is a brain disorder that is not a normal part of aging. Dementia makes it hard for a person to remember, learn and communicate. Eventually dementia can progress to the point that a person cannot care for themselves. Moods and personality changes may also occur. Lapses in memory and disruptive behaviors are not uncommon events seen in dementia.
Dementia may be caused by vascular events such as stokes or could be related to Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, we do not have a cure for dementia. There are medications which can slow the progression of the disease process. Many dietary supplements have been researched but none have been shown to definitively be beneficial in dementia. There are genetic tests which can be performed to assess a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease but these tests cannot, with 100% accuracy, predict who will or will not develop the disease.
Much research has been done to find ways to prevent dementia but there is no conclusive evidence relating lifestyle and dementia. However, it is felt that increased physical activity, exercise, mentally challenging activities and social interaction all may delay or prevent the onset of dementia. It is known that in those with dementia behavioral disruptions may be lessened by eliminating sleep deprivation and dehydration which can cause delirium. Other factors that may contribute to increased confusion in persons with dementia include hearing or visual mpairment, using restraints, infections, medications, electrolyte disturbances or withdrawal from alcohol or sedatives. Therefore all of these factors must be ruled out if behavioral changes are seen. Persons with dementia respond best to what is familiar, frequent reassurance and touch. Calendars, clocks and regular routines help to keep those with dementia more oriented.
Most importantly caregivers should seek help in caring for their loved ones. There are Alzheimer’s support groups in the area and online information available at www.alz.org. If you suspect that you or a loved one has dementia, see your doctor and get help early.