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Dementia: Hopeless or Hopeful

You forget where you put your keys, or you can’t remember where you parked your car, and you worry you may be developing dementia. Dementia is a general term describing a loss in brain function severe enough to interfere with your ability to function in day to day life. This can include difficulty remembering things, trouble thinking clearly, trouble finding words and even changes in mood or behaviour. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other common types include vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.

If you are experiencing forgetfulness or foggy thinking you may be reluctant to see your doctor because you are afraid nothing can be done. The first thing to consider is that not all “senior moments” are caused by dementia. Lack of sleep, stress, nutritional deficiencies, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, infections, undiagnosed or poorly managed medical conditions and drug side effects can all affect your ability to think clearly.

Sometimes the fear of dementia prevents us from investigating what may actually be wrong. This is understandable. We all know that there is no magic pill which is going to fix dementia. Many drugs have been developed and tested. The results of these drug trials have been disappointing and discouraging.

This does not mean the situation is hopeless however. Dementia is not caused by any one thing. It occurs when many things are going wrong at the same time. It develops slowly, over many years, and possibly decades. This means we have time to identify and fix the things that increase our risk of developing dementia.

Some researchers have been studying whether or not identifying and correcting all known risk factors in patients with early cognitive decline (early dementia) may even stop or reverse their symptoms. This exciting, multifactorial approach is showing some promising results. The basic idea is to identify and then decrease, correct or reverse each individual risk factor. When enough individual factors are addressed, the health of the body and the function of the brain improves. Although early studies are small, the results are hopeful. Early stages of cognitive decline have been stopped and even reversed in some patients.

Next week: A detailed look at identifying your risk factors.


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