Dementia is a neurodegenerative condition that is more serious than age-related memory loss. In the United States alone, more than 5 million people are diagnosed with some form of the condition. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s; however, dementia can also result from other factors.
Although the most significant risk factor for dementia is advanced age, there are underlying conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms. If identified early, dementia symptoms can be halted, or in some cases reversed.
It can be difficult for people to identify the signs of dementia in themselves. For this reason, family and caregivers often recognize early symptoms first. Many signs of early-stage dementia affect temperament: the individual may avoid social situations and become depressed.
While it is normal for older people to misidentify unfamiliar people or forget very recent events, the inability to recall more familiar people and objects can be a sign of dementia. People who suddenly become disoriented, especially in places that are familiar to them, should be screened for the condition. Increased irritability and halting communication can also indicate a cognitive problem.
If a person shows signs of dementia, they will need to go through a medical evaluation to determine the cause. The physician or specialist will identify whether the dementia is reversible through treatment.
During the diagnosis, the medical professional will review the patient’s family history and look for any genetic susceptibilities to dementia. The patient’s medical history is also considered, as medications and heavy alcohol use can cause dementia-like symptoms.
Patients may also undergo a brain scan to look for any changes or lesions. Since some viruses, like HIV, can appear as dementia, patients may undergo testing for infections. If the individual was recently involved in an accident, the physician may scan for traumatic brain injuries.
For example, people with B12 vitamin deficiency have many symptoms that mirror dementia, like memory loss. Increasing B12 intake through dietary changes and supplements can reverse some of these symptoms.
An overactive or underactive thyroid can also contribute to poor coordination and cognitive decline. Most people will regain their abilities after treatment.
While there are some causes of dementia that cannot be reversed, lifestyle changes and medication can slow neurodegeneration. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce cognitive decline. Physical activity supports blood flow and ensures an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain, which can preserve neuron health. Likewise, exercise reduces many of the risk factors for dementia, including stroke and hypertension.
Heart-healthy diets rich in fresh produce and low in fat can have a protective effect on the brain. Food with high levels of antioxidants help protect neurons against damage from toxic particles known as free radicals. Healthy diets also facilitate neural growth by promoting blood flow and stimulating brain areas associated with memory.
In addition, mental stimulation proves effective in slowing dementia, whether achieved through learning a new skill or playing challenging games or puzzles. Some evidence exists that mentally stimulating activities can slow neuron degeneration and encourage the brain to build new connections. This fortifies brain matter, making the individual more resilient to dementia symptoms.