Being senile is the same as having dementia. It is a medical condition that causes permanent cognitive impairment.
Having an elderly family member who has trouble remembering things and says crazy things is sometimes a common stereotype. However, funny behavior might not be just a normal part of growing old. It may be a consequence of a syndrome called dementia. Memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioral changes are common symptoms of it. Although in dementia, there is usually permanent brain damage, deterioration can be slower if the patient receives treatment. But, for your loved one to receive treatment, it has to be diagnosed first.
Approximately fifty million people suffer from dementia worldwide. According to a study made by the World Health Organization, that number will rise to 75 million in 2030, and by 2050 the prevalence will increase to 136 million. Population aging is the leading cause of these increases. The incidence of this disease increases exponentially with age: the higher the age, the higher the risk.
Dementia quickly compromises the ability of elders to meet their basic personal care needs. It is the leading cause of dependence worldwide. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about dementia directly from the hands of an M.D.
Is senile and dementia the same?
Many people mistakenly think that dementia and senility are interchangeable terms. That is not exactly true.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the term senile refers to something that relates or exhibits characteristics of old age. So, the word senile, in its purest form, only applies to old age. The thing is that the terms senile and senility are more commonly associated with a decline in mental abilities and a loss of memory. Sometimes, the word senile serves as a prefix to indicate old age. For example, the term senile cataract refers to eye cataracts caused by old age. The term senile arthritis refers to the joint degeneration that occurs with age.
Senile dementia is a controversial term. Many medical professionals consider the term senile dementia redundant because most dementia cases occur at old age. Experts believe that saying senile dementia is similar to saying wet rain. Nowadays, the term dementia is preferred over senile dementia.
Many years ago, cognitive decline was thought to be a normal consequence of aging. The term senile was more commonly used. Nowadays, we know that cognitive dysfunction is not healthy, and it might be the consequence of a group of conditions and injuries that lead to dementia. The term senile has recently lost popularity because of is negative and derogatory tone. For example: Don’t listen to him, he is senile.
So, in the end, senile is a loose, unspecific, broad term used to describe the loss of cognitive function during old age, senile dementia is a redundant term, and dementia is an accepted medical term.
What is dementia?
Many people think that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are one and the same. In reality, Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of the former. The term dementia encompasses a variety of different medical conditions. The only thing these conditions have in common is that they all cause permanent impairment of cognitive ability.
Dementia tends to have a progressive and chronic nature. It affects cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, judgment, thinking, orientation, language capacity. Before cognitive impairment occurs, patients are likely to experience changes in social behavior, emotional control, and feel demotivated. Consciousness, the ability to remain awake and interact with the environment, is not affected in this condition.
Many diseases and conditions can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of it, representing sixty to seventy percent of all cases. Other common types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. The boundaries between these conditions can be blurry, and many times dementia patients have a combination of pathologies.
At what age do you become senile?
People should not become senile at any age because, as we’ve mentioned before, senility isn’t a normal part of aging. Actually, senility is just an inaccurate term that describes symptoms of dementia, and senile dementia is only a more complicated way of saying dementia.
For the people, the risk of having dementia increases with age. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is more frequent in those over the age of 65. The risk of having Alzheimer’s rises to 50% in patients beyond the age of 85.
Although symptoms usually begin after the age of 65, the disease process starts much earlier. Alzheimer’s symptoms are the consequence of 20 years of brain tissue damage. The disease process begins when patients are 40 years old, and symptoms begin to show 20 years later.
Young-onset Alzheimer’s is a rare form of dementia that begins before the age of 65, usually to people in their forties. It affects around 5% of all Alzheimer patients. Patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease usually have an atypical form of the disease and exhibit different symptoms than most Alzheimer patients.
Other types of this condition, like vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia, also tend to begin at old age.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia symptoms vary according to the specific disease that produces the symptoms. However, most of them have some symptoms in common. In Alzheimer’s, memory loss is the most common symptom. Loss of cognitive function tends to begin slowly and mildly, during the early stages, patients may attribute many of the symptoms to stress or being too tired.
- Memory loss: Difficulty remembering things, mainly recently learned information. There is increasingly needing to rely on memory aids like post-it notes and electronic reminders. Asking the same information over and over and forgetting important dates and events.
- Difficulty communicating: Patients forget the word for what they are trying to say in everyday conversations. They might stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea what to say next. They may call things with made-up names.
- Decreased or poor judgment: Alzheimer patients might start spending money irresponsibly and being careless about their physical appearance.
- Problems with orientation: Getting lost in familiar places, forgetting the way home, or the way to work.
- Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving: Patients might have difficulties following a usual recipe, keeping up with the bills, or counting change. They pay less attention to grooming and keeping themselves clean.
- Changes in personality: These patients can become anxious, untrusting, depressed, and irritable. They can become aggressive out of their comfort zones. They might avoid being social and remove themselves from hobbies, activities, and work projects. Some patients might develop psychotic symptoms.
Dementia patients lack insight into their impairments and might deny having any kind of cognitive deficits.
Is forgetfulness always a sign of dementia?
Not all people with memory problems have Alzheimer’s. Forgetting things is a normal part of life, many people forget where they put their car keys, the birthday of a loved one, or an essential meaning without having Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia. It is also true that some persons are very forgetful and careless without having Alzheimer’s. The following memory lapses are frequent in a regular older persona and are not a cause for concern:
- Occasionally forgetting an appointment or a significant date
- Entering a room and forgetting why you went there
- Being easily distracted.
- Sometimes forgetting where you left things, like your wallet, keys, or phone.
There are two critical differences between these lapses and dementia. The first one is that these lapses are not progressive, which means they don’t get worst over time. The other significant difference is that lapses aren’t disabling, they have little impact on daily life. They do not prevent people from doing anything they want to do. Here are some warning signs of dementia:
- Disorientation: This disorientation extends to both place and time. Dementia patients typically forget where they are and how did they get there. They can get lost on their way to work or home. The might have trouble remembering the month they are in and even the year.
- Personality changes: Alzheimer patients can become anxious, paranoid, and aggressive.
- Forgetting the names and faces of loved ones and the inability to remember words.
Patients with normal age-related memory problems can remember instances where they have been forgetful. In contrast, Alzheimer patients are unable to recall instances where memory has been a problem. Elderly patients without dementia might have problems remembering some words but can carry a conversation normally, whereas many dementia patients cannot handle a normal conversation.
Is senility a normal part of aging?
With old age, changes occur in some parts of the brain. Some hormones and proteins that normally stimulate and protect nerve cells decline with age. Some older people also experience decreased blood flow to the brain. However, significant memory loss is not an inevitable consequence of aging.
Lifestyle habits are the most important factors that influence the health of your brain. Keeping yourself active during old age cannot prevent dementia. Still, it can prevent the normal memory loss many people associate with aging.
What is senile degeneration of the brain?
Senile degeneration of the brain is an outdated term formerly used to describe the lesions seen in Alzheimer patients’ brains. Neuropathology studies of Alzheimer’s brains show deposits of a protein called beta-amyloid outside neurons. These deposits are called amyloid deposits, beta-amyloid plaques, or senile plaques.
Senile plaques and smaller accumulations of beta-amyloid called oligomers contribute to the damage and death of neurons by interfering with neuron to neuron communication. Tangles of another protein called Tau found insider the neuron, interfere with the transport of essential nutrients inside the neuron.
What is the difference between the different types of dementia?
Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia have one thing in common: the loss of cognitive function due to neuronal injury. The mechanisms that lead to neuronal injury is the main difference between these diseases. In Alzheimer’s dementia, as described in previous sections, there is a deposit of senile plaques and tau tangles that interfere with nutrient transport and synapsis between neurons. But what happens in all the other types of dementia?
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. It is a consequence of cardiovascular disease. Diseased blood vessels are unable to carry enough oxygen to the brain. Many patients develop vascular dementia after a severe stroke in the right location. And, others may produce it after having many mini-strokes that go unnoticed at first, and some due to diffuse damage caused by hypertension. Vascular dementia usually has a more acute onset than Alzheimer’ s disease. Patients tend to experience more depression than Alzheimer patients. Although vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same diseases, many people have both at the same time. Vascular dementia has the same risk factors as heart disease like hypertension and diabetes.
In Alzheimer’s, there is an abnormal deposit of senile plaques and tau protein. In Lewy body dementia, there is an unusual deposit of alpha-synuclein protein (Lewy bodies). Lewy bodies grow in nerve cells of the brain that control motor control and thinking. While in Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss is the main symptom, dementia with Lewy bodies is more likely to affect the way you process information. Patients with this form of dementia present symptoms such as hallucinations and episodes of reduced responsiveness, they also experience motor problems like tremors and stiffness.
How can you tell if someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s?
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s type diseases like dementia with Lewy bodies is purely clinical. This means that the diagnosis is based on the signs and symptoms of each patient. Neuroimaging studies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET scan) can exclude other diagnoses like brain cancer or confirm vascular dementia diagnosis. Blood tests exclude other causes of dementia, such as vitamin b12 deficiency (anemia), syphilis, and thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism).
The only way to make a definitive diagnosis so far is by doing an autopsy of the brain post mortem. That is to say, grabbing a piece of the brain after the patient died and studying it through a microscope.
What is the most severe form of dementia?
All forms of dementia are progressive and can cause devastating permanent disability. Alzheimer’s disease can be just as bad as vascular dementia which can be as bad as Lewy body dementia. In short, all forms of dementia can be incredibly severe.
Can dementia be treated?
Currently, treatment can mitigate and slow down the progression of some types of dementia. However, there is no permanent cure so far.
There are two main types of medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease:
- Cholinesterase Inhibitors: Like donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. These drugs increase the levels of acetylcholine involved in memory and judgment. Clinical trials show that these drugs may delay the worsening of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
- Memantine: These drugs may help Alzheimer patients maintain normal mental activity for longer periods.
Usually, these two drugs are prescribed together.
Other types of drugs that help manage symptoms but do not slow down the disease’s progress include:
- Anti-epileptic drugs
- Antiparkinsonian Agents
Is it you or someone you know having symptoms of it?
This tool is a dementia symptoms checker. It gathers the most important risk factors, signs, and symptoms of dementia. Therefore, it would help people to assess the likelihood of having or developing this disease. It is free and would only take a few minutes.