Dementia is a disorder in which a normal normal brain stops functioning normally and the patient becomes forgetful, confused and loses connection with the outside world. Dementia is very rare in people under the age of 65. Senile dementia (dementia that affects older people) is, on the contrary, very common. Weakening of mental abilities is sometimes a consequence of the gradual deteriorating of irreplaceable brain cells; in some cases, where the treatment can be more successful, the condition develops due to gradual narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply brain with the blood (see arteriosclerosis).
Senile dementia can develop over the course of several years and is, due to the inevitable aging, incurable. However, do not think that signs of confusion or weakening of intellectual ability in a person over the age of 65 are always a consequence of senility, because the underlying cause may be some sickness which can be treated.
For example, lung or urinary tract infections, stroke, heart attacks and hypothermia may cause mental distress; the same applies to low levels of blood sugar, hypoglycaemia or some medications. Confusion, anxiety, and drowsiness, which are the results from such illnesses, differ from the symptoms of senile dementia as follows: they usually develop rapidly, in a day or two, and often disappear after proper treatment of the underlying condition. In some cases, senile dementia can be exacerbated by the already existing vision and hearing problems.
Senile dementia can also be caused by prolonged excessive drinking, excessive taking of medication or lack of vitamins, hypothyroidism, syphilis, brain tumor or subdural hematoma. Very often, mental signs of ”senility” are withdrawn after treatment of such illnesses. Depression often occurs in elderly people, and its symptoms are similar to dementia symptoms. Unfortunately, in such cases, symptoms are often attributed to dementia although the real cause is depression – which can be treated.
In the following paragraphs, we will only discuss about the real senile dementia that develops slowly and insidiously, which is not the result of any basic, curable disorder. Many elderly people in the early stages of senile dementia realize that their intellectual abilities are weakening, and the advancening of that disease practically can not be stopped. Therefore, the following tips are intended for close relatives and friends of old people, rather than the very elders themselves.
The first symptom is the gradual loss of memory, especially the latest events. You will begin to notice that an elder can no longer remember what happened a few hours (or minutes) ago, although he/she recalls the events that took place many years ago. This is a classic symptom of memory in elderly people and does not necessarily mean that dementia will progress, although this is often the case. During the next few weeks or months, the ability to think and comprehension may be weakened, as well as loss of interest in all family activities, even for watching television or inquiring about acquaintances. In time, a person’s personality may be lost. Senile dementia often ends with emotional and physical instability. Some elderly people have been reluctantly recluse and overaggressive, and their behavior becomes vacant and antisocial. Behavior at the table is worse, personal hygiene is neglected, and ordinary civility disappears. Sometimes such persons can behave violently. Some people also engage in sexual outbreaks for younger people of both sexes. All these symptoms gradually but surely lead to an increasingly deteriorating intellectual and mental state.
The probability of senile dementia increases with age. It affects about 10% of people over the age of 65, and this number increases to 20% in people who are over the age of 80. This means that, on average, every tenth family includes at least one member suffering from senile dementia.
Older people who are suffering from senile dementia, as well as those with obvious signs of senility, should not live alone. Given their forgetfulness and inability to concentrate, they are exposed to constant danger of accidents caused by fire, gas and kitchen tools. Mental disturbance, especially if accompanied by physical discomfort such as deafness or deteriorating vision, makes it more difficult to take medication, crossing the street and even the use of the bathroom. If someone is not watching them, people with dementia usually eat poorly and neglect personal hygiene. Consequences may be unpleasant, especially if such persons are beginning to suffer (which is often the case) from incontinence, malnutrition or any illness caused by vitamin A deficiency.