Common condition is often mistaken for Alzheimer

One of the most common mental health disorders in seniors is dementia.

A 2002 study found that 3.4 million people in the U.S. suffered from dementia. And the risk increases with age. Among people aged 71-79, 5 percent showed signs of dementia; but among those aged 90 or older, 37 percent were affected.

In Canada, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 8 percent of Canadians over the age of 65 are affected by dementia and 35 percent of seniors 85 yeas or older are living with dementia.

People often confuse dementia with Alzheimer’s disease – which is, in fact, be one of the most common causes of this debilitating condition.

Dementia can be caused by strokes or other brain changes, but in most causes there is no cause – which means there is also no way of preventing it.

What causes dementia? It is caused by the destruction of brain cells. People who have experienced a head injury, stroke or brain tumor can develop dementia in the future. Dementia can also be associated with your family history; if someone in your family has dementia it does increase your risk of developing it later in life.

Recognizing signs of dementia and seeking medical attention right away can help slow down the progression of dementia. Some signs to be aware of are:

  • lack of attention
  • loss of memory or concentration
  • paranoid beliefs or delusions
  • anxiety or depression
  • aggressive behaviour

Dementia can cause a strain on family relationships that can be difficult to cope with. But understanding dementia and realizing the patient is not responsible for their actions will help bridge the gap between the family and the patient. People with dementia in the late stages require full-time care, usually in an institution.

Dementia disorders are progressive disorders that do eventually led to death. While there are treatments, these treatments are designed to slow down or keep stable the symptoms of dementia.

Treatment for dementia includes social and psychological care for the patient as well as support for the family. Medications can help control some of the cognitive and behavioural symptoms but will not eliminate the disorder.

Unfortunately there is no cure for dementia, but if treated someone can live with disorder.

To learn more about dementia and support programs for both patients and family members, contact the Alzheimer’s Association in the U.S. or the Alzheimer Society in Canada.