Know All The Facts About Dementia

A major misconception in mental health today is that dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and insanity mean more or less the same thing.  The facts show otherwise.  Alzheimer’s disease is a specific form of dementia, which is a term meaning “progressive brain dysfunction.”  Dementia involves a loss of mental abilities that can eventually lead to a restriction of common activities.  However, just because a person is experiencing symptoms of dementia, or even has some diagnosed form of dementia, does not mean they are insane.

In fact, the term of insanity is a very general and careless one that could imply anything from mental derangement, to willful foolishness, to psychopathic thinking.  It’s important in discussing mental illnesses and medical conditions to get only the facts, so as not to spread more misinformation.

Symptoms of dementia are not diagnosed the same as psychosis or delirium.  Psychosis is a distorted sense of reality, while delirium involves brief states of mental confusion strongly associated with hallucinations.  Forms of severe depression and even mental retardation have also been wrongly associated with dementia.  Mental retardation involves impaired intellectual ability, a conditioning stemming back from a person’s childhood.  Depression is defined by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity.

Dementia, on the other hand, is closely related to changes in brain function that affect a person’s memory, personality and behavior.  These changes are severe enough to affect a person’s ability to interact socially and accomplish daily routines.

What are the symptoms of dementia?  Absent-mindedness and confusion are two very prevalent associations with the condition.  In earlier times, these signs used to be considered part of the aging process and dementia was put together with senility.  Today, however, dementia is recognized as an unnatural state, not a normal part of the aging process.

There are also other and more serious symptoms than just forgetfulness and confusion.  These could include: a person repeatedly asking the same question, having unusual difficulty in following directions, problems keeping track of time, people or locations, permanent loss of memory or confusion about familiar surroundings, changes in personality and neglect of personal care.  Sufferers of dementia may also exhibit more physical symptoms.  Noticeable problems in a person’s speech and language could be observed.  They may be unable to perform certain physical functions even though their body members still work.  (For example, being able to walk but not climb steps)  In addition, other mental impairments may be observed such as an inability to identify objects, organize simple activities, or think abstractly.

It is also important to note that these are all symptoms of dementia, or possibly Alzheimer’s disease.  However, just because a person exhibits one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean the person will be diagnosed as a dementia patient.  Some people have had problems with forgetfulness or confusion but were not diagnosed as having any brain dysfunction.  Others may have had some form of dementia, which thanks to a quick diagnosis and prompt treatment, was found to be reversible.  It is even possible that some minor symptoms could be indicative of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Yes, it is true that in some cases dementia can lead to delirium or psychosis.  But they are different diagnoses and many cases will see patients suffering only from dementia.  The term “demented” is sometimes used to describe Alzheimer’s patients, or another type of dementia patient.  Expressions can be found in various medical articles referring to patients as “moderately demented” or “severely demented.”  Caution would be urged in using the word “demented” by its purest definition, which is sometimes quoted as “affected with madness or insanity.”  Just like the general term of insanity, careless use of the word can actually lead to more misconceptions about the reality of mental illness.  Even in the medical context, a person just exhibiting symptoms of dementia would not necessarily be demented, and a person classified as “severely demented” may not be experiencing any delirium or psychosis.

Accurate and detailed facts about mental health are the best kind to distribute.   It is important for the diagnosed patient, family members and caregivers, as well as the general public, to understand the specific differences—to get the facts—so as to better cope with the problem.