With the population around the world aging, and the average life span reaching record highs, more and more people are being diagnosed with dementia. What exactly is dementia? It is not Alzheimer's disease but it can be caused by Alzheimer's. It isn't just one disease, it is a variety of symptoms that affect people in different ways. People with dementia will have memory loss but having memory loss does not mean that you have dementia.

The symptoms of dementia are both cognitive and psychological. Tests are available to help identify if someone is suffering from dementia but it is a combination of things, not a definitive test like what you might do for diabetes or other diseases. Testing for dementia involves a doctor carefully checking the medical record of the patient, observing their ability to function in day to day situations, blood tests and brain scans, whether or not they know where they live and what day it is and changes that may have occurred in their personality. Some of the symptoms that doctors look for are the ability to communicate, loss of memory, the inability to solve problems or organize things. Talking to close family members who have seen the changes helps the doctor in the diagnosis process.

The psychological changes can be more difficult to understand and diagnose. People with dementia may suffer from depression, they may be anxious without reason, they can become aggressive when their normal personality is much more passive. It is very hard for the family to see a loved one be angry and use language that is totally out of character. Inappropriate behavior is another sign. Suffers may walk around naked, put their clothes on backward, lose interest in things that were formerly important to them and even become paranoid and think that family and friends are plotting against them. It can be just one or two of these many symptoms or it can be all of them and even more.

One of the biggest challenges that doctors face is diagnosing what the cause of the dementia is. Treatments are based on this diagnosis. For the most part, dementia is not curable but there are some drugs that can help to manage the symptoms. One of the most common class of drugs used to treat dementia is cholinesterase inhibitors. Among the most popular are Aricept (donepezil) Razadyne (galantamine) and Exelon (rivastigmine). While these are most often used to treat Alzheimer's dementia, they are also effective with Parkinson's Disease dementia, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Namenda (memantine) is also used either alone or with one of the cholinesterase inhibitors. These two types of drugs both work to help improve the chemical messengers in the brain.

Individual symptoms of dementia may also be treated with drugs or with other therapies. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can provide support for some of the ongoing challenges that people with dementia face on a day to day basis. Reiki healing has been shown in scientific studies to provide much-needed help to patients who suffer from dementia. It can relieve the symptoms of stress and reduce anxiety. It has even improved memory in patients with mild cognitive issues.

Dementia is a relentless disease that can wreak total havoc in the lives of sufferers and to the members if their family. Getting a diagnosis as early as possible and beginning a treatment program is vital to maintaining a useful and fulfilling life for as long as possible.

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