Dementia is a term for a set of neurological issues primarily affecting memory, thinking skills and social abilities, which can be caused by several different diseases. Memory loss is often one of the early signs of the condition. Depending on the causes of dementia, some symptoms can be treatable and even reversible.
Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common causes of progressive dementia in older adults, but there are several other causes of dementia that should be considered in the differential diagnosis.
Dementia symptoms may vary, depending on the cause, but the most common are memory loss, difficulties with communication and social skills, difficulties with thinking, such as reasoning and problem-solving, difficulties handling complex tasks such as planning and organising, difficulty with coordination, fluctuating levels of confusion and disorientation and issues with vision and spatial awareness.
Patients can also demonstrate personality changes, anxiety and depression, behavioural changes, paranoia, episodes of agitation and hallucinations.
The diagnosis starts with a neurological examination. The neurologist may refer the patient for blood tests, MRI brain imaging, cognitive and psychiatric assessment and sometimes a PET scan, which is often used to confirm the diagnosis of suspected Alzheimer's disease.
In some cases, the neurologist may recommend a lumbar puncture with cerebrospinal fluid analysis to further confirm the possible underlying cause of dementia.
While many conditions leading to dementia cannot currently be cured, some conditions are fully treatable. A diagnostic evaluation is essential for putting in place an appropriate treatment plan and predicting further prognosis.