The Progression of Dementia and Personality Changes
Dementia is a condition that most of us fear, the state of progressive loss of function and abilities. The commonest form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans, the vast majority of whom are over age 65. By 2025 there will be more than 7 million. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Studies have revealed that before the earliest symptoms show, the disease has been causing chemical and physical changes in the brain for several years. The first signs of early Alzheimer’s are primarily related to lapses in memory: forgetting names of friends, events, locations. This kind of forgetfulness can be due to normal aging as well. But as the disease worsens, memory problems become more acute and indicators such as confusion, difficulty making decisions and solving dilemmas, getting lost and inability to express thoughts become more common.
The decrease in functioning continues until the person can no longer live alone. Alzheimer’s eventually reduces its victims to a state where they can no longer handle the activities that we do every day: eating, dressing, bathing. The sufferer becomes totally dependent on caretakers. This decline usually takes place over several years.
As the person begins to lose so much of what defines him or her, the memories, the ability to reason and to communicate, frustration develops. The Alzheimer patient often becomes angry, even aggressive and paranoid. Or they may become severely depressed, retreating into themselves. In more advanced stages, restlessness is common with sleep disturbances, agitation, pacing, yelling and emotional outbursts. Delusions and hallucinations occur often.
The rate of progression of dementia varies with the cause, and Alzheimer’s is the slowest of the dementia causes . The disease advances faster in those under age 65, but there are other variables as well. Individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease are more likely to have a rapid deterioration than an otherwise healthy adult. Staying active both mentally and physically has been shown to stave off the early stages of the disease and slow down the degeneration. Daily exercise is recommended for all seniors who can tolerate it. New medications are showing promise at slowing the disease as well. There is no cure for this disease, but science is making some progress on finding a way to slow it down.