The name senile dementia is an expression used quite often within popular culture. It’s a cognitive behavioral problem in the elderly. If we refer to a more technical definition, we can say that senile dementia corresponds to serious cognitive impairments which makes older people dysfunctional, which means that the patient cannot lead a normal life without the help of others. Lifestyle is a determining factor for the occurrence of senile dementia. An active life and a healthy diet can prevent the onset of this disorder.
Senile dementia is not a disease, but a condition. It originates in a multitude of diseases, the most common are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, the presence of Lewy body and frontotemporal degeneration. There are more than 100 diseases that can give rise to senile dementia, usually affecting people over 60 years of age and is irreversible.
The main risk factors for developing senile dementia are: age, a sedentary lifestyle, depression, low intellectual activity, diets rich in saturated fats and diabetes. These are the main illnesses that cause it:
Senile dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease: It is the most common type. It includes progressive loss of memory, difficulties in expressing oneself, disorientation and an increase in dependence to perform basic activities.
Dementia of vascular origin: It originates during some type of vascular event, mainly a stroke. The symptoms depend on the area of the brain that has been affected.
Dementia with Lewy bodies: Its main characteristic is the presence of visual hallucinations. It is common to present sudden changes in the mental state, postural instability, slow movements and muscular rigidity.
Dementia associated with Parkinson’s: Not all people with Parkinson’s disease develop senile dementia. If it happens, the first symptoms usually occur one year after having the disease.
General symptoms of senile dementia include: loss of social skills, progressive isolation, inappropriate and aggressive behaviors, difficulty in memorization, poor orientation and reduced reasoning. It is also common to suffer disruptive sleep patterns.
It is not easy to establish phases in senile dementia since they usually vary quite a bit, depending on the characteristics of the patient and the underlying disease that gives rise to dementia. Therefore, there is no unique classification. However, we can make general differentiations in the following way:
Mild Phase: In this phase the patient is still fully functional. There are just a few short-term memory problems compared to minor issues. Patients show difficulty in finding words when communicating.
Moderate Phase: It is the longest phase in which the family usually consults a doctor as the person is discouraged and progressively isolated. Their personality changes, they tend to wander and cannot perform daily activities.
Advanced Phase: The patient no longer recognizes anyone. Motor skills are extremely deteriorated and need the help of others to survive.
There is no single test to diagnose senile dementia. The doctor performs a detailed clinical history and physical exam to determine the condition presented by the patient. The medical professional will also investigate the symptomatology. In particular, different tests are indicated to check the state of functioning of the nervous system. For example, CAT scans help to verify in what condition the brain is. Finally, tests are ordered to evaluate the psychological state of the patient in order to determine current cognitive and behavioral abilities.