The Star-News


Can dementia be reversed?

Sat, Sep 03 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Jenny Wallis

Dear Jenny,

When one has dementia, is it always permanent? Or is there a way to slow it down, even reverse it?

There are many causes of dementia that are reversible or can be stabilized. Just think about those things that you may already know can cause confusion and thinking difficulties in the older adults you care for.

Clinical or Major Depression, both of these share many of the same symptoms as dementia. Depression of long duration, accompanied by symptoms of sleeplessness, weight loss and suicidal thoughts, should be treated by a psychiatrist. There are medications and counseling therapies that are appropriate and helpful.

Medications or drug reactions: older adults are on numerous medications (the average is nine). They may be asked to take all of these medications at the same times, or take the wrong doses. Some drugs interact negatively with others or with some foods. Many prescribed medications taken by older adults can affect status and thinking.

Infections, UTI's or urinary tract infections or pneumonia are common infections that cause confusion in many of the elderly. An infection that can cause a minor uncomfortable feeling in the average person, can actually cause an elderly person to act out in an extremely irrational way, it can also be responsible for causing extreme disorientation.

Metabolic disorders, chronic kidney failure, thyroid disease and the most common- dehydration (lack of adequate fluids) can contribute to confusion as can nutritional deficiencies, the lack of essential vitamins and nutrients.

Brain tumors or traumatic brain injury, can cause dementia depending on the location of the injury in the brain. Although, the effects may not be reversible, the condition may be stabilized.

Chronic alcoholism has toxic effects on neurons and is associated with malnutrition, both associated with dementia. Abstaining from alcohol can prevent further decline but may not reverse the damage that has been done.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a condition caused by obstruction of the normal flow of fluids from the brain, contributing to the buildup of fluid. Symptoms include incontinence, poor balance and dementia. If diagnosed early a shunt or tube can be inserted in the brain to drain excess fluid and the condition may improve or stabilize.

Most dementias are irreversible. Sometimes a person may have more than one type, often called 'mixed dementia'. There are numerous kinds of non-reversible dementias. Next month I will go over the various kinds.


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