What is senile dementia?
Support groups are trying to phase out the term senile dementia and replace it with the name of the actual condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or Pick’s disease. They claim that dementia can be contracted by anyone of any age and that the word senile has many negative connotations in today’s society.
However, many clinicians still use the term to name a group of conditions that typically strike the elderly and see it as a way of depicting the age rather than the mental capacity of the sufferer.
Types of Elderly Dementia
When doctors talk about someone suffering from senile dementia, they are referring to the fact that some form of change is happening in the brain of an elderly person. The term itself is not an official diagnosis, and they will often expand it to define the particular form of dementia, with the most common types of senile dementia identified as:
- Alzheimer’s disease –Plaque build up in the brain, which results in nerve “tangles” that cause groups of cells to die off, causes Alzheimer’s. This hereditary disease is the largest cause of dementia across the globe.
- Vascular dementia – The word vascular relates to the heart and circulatory system and blood vessels bursting in the brain cause this type of dementia. This is the second most common form of dementia and can strike younger people in very rare cases.
- Pick’s disease – Pick’s is similar in to Alzheimer’s in that the plaque build-up in the arteries and veins in the brain causes it. Unlike Alzheimer’s it only affects certain types of cells, so only certain behaviors change. Typically, a Pick’s disease sufferer will keep most of their language skills but lose the ability to function in a socially appropriate manner.
What is senile dementia continued…
The research on senile dementia has increased as the population of most western countries slowly ages and reaches ages unthinkable a century ago. A lot has been put in to study the difference between normal memory loss that comes with getting older and symptoms of senile dementia so that doctors can catch the condition early and offer treatment to slow it down. The following is a selective list of symptoms that go beyond the expected loss of brain function that comes from living a long time and may indicate a form of elderly dementia:
- Social skills – Monitoring someone’s social ability can be incredibly difficult as most people without dementia can still be subject to mood swings depending on their level of sleep, hunger or emotional state. However, these changes tend to be transitory while the friends and family of a dementia sufferer will see drastic and permanent changes to the way the person reacts to people. This may be a sudden dislike of a group of people they previously liked, repeating themselves in the same conversation or being unable to follow the thread of a simple discussion.
- Irritability – One of the key early warning signs of senile dementia is the tendency to become irritable at the slightest provocation. This is because simple tasks are becoming a lot more frustrating and the patient is often aware that their brain isn’t functioning correctly, but may be unable to work out why. This can often lead to depression, as the sufferer may feel incapable of living their life as they had done previously.
- Physical conditions – Dementia in the elderly is often accompanied by changes in their physical ability to complete simple tasks. One of the first tests that a doctor will do to diagnose elderly dementia is to observe the patient walk. This simple act, performed millions of times over a lifetime, can become difficult, as dementia often strikes at the motor control centers of the brain first. Family and friends may notice other routine physical tasks taking longer or being forgotten such as tying shoes, washing the dishes or writing.
Interestingly, doctors giving advice to family and friends who are concerned that their loved one is developing dementia recommend avoiding testing their memory. This is because the hippocampus, which is where the brain stores long-term memories, is often the first part of the adult brain to degrade and a certain amount of forgetfulness is normal in all aging adults. The above symptoms are much clearer indicators that something more serious is wrong.
Sadly, the truth about senile dementia is that it is a progressive disease without a cure, meaning that at best once a doctor diagnoses it, he or she can prescribe medicines or lifestyle changes that will slow the symptoms down without making them go away. While it will be important to get as much help with day to day living for the patient, friends and family of dementia sufferers need to build a support network as it can be soul destroying watching someone close to you lose their personality in front of your eyes.
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