Home > Causes of dementia, Diagnosis, Types of dementia, Uncategorized > A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Image courtesy phasinphoto @ www.freedigitalphotos.netWorking in the long-term care industry, I’ve encountered many people who have the attitude that one person with dementia is very much like another.  No attempt is made to identify which dementia-producing disease an individual has, or to treat him any differently from others who have similar impairments.  After all, what difference does it make?

The thing is, differential diagnosis can make a big difference.  For instance, a person with Lewy-Body Disease, if given some medications that are commonly used with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, could suffer very serious side effects.  An individual who suddenly exhibits an altered mental status might be dismissed as having a urinary tract infection (or worse, just showing the inevitable signs of the downward spiral of dementia) may actually have a blood vessel slowly bleeding into the brain due to that fall she had the other day.

Now, it is true that there is no definitive means available, at this time, to reliably determine what particular disease a person might have.  But we’re getting closer all the time, and many times we can actually come pretty close.  There is research being done at this moment on neuroimaging methodology and blood tests, among other tools, that can help us determine that a person actually does have dementia — and what type he might have.

The first important step is to rule out any other possible cause of cognitive impairment that may be present.  Simple blood tests can determine if a person has a thyroid problem, or abnormal levels of other blood components such as vitamin B12 or calcium.  A urinalysis can tell if she has a urinary tract infection.  A check of medications can help identify any abnormal reactions.  Is the person under-nourished or dehydrated?

And while a brain scan may not identify, without doubt, the form of dementia being exhibited, we do know that different diseases affect different parts of the brain.  So it is possible to get a good idea, which can be confirmed through other means — such as behavioral or neuropsychiatric testing.  Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy-Body Disease, Frontotemporal dementia, Vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease all attack varying parts of the brain.

So, the point here is that if you see someone who is experiencing some memory loss, or is having difficulty completing their day-to-day activities (or if you’re noticing these things in yourself), be careful not to assume that he is merely showing the first signs of dementia, and that there’s nothing that can be done.  If we are told we have cancer, we work hard to determine what kind of cancer is present, and if it can be treated.  The same thing goes for any number of other diseases.  Let’s not stop short with this one.

This article was inspired by Decoding dementia: Knowing the cause can help you plan for the future by Dr. Carmela Tartaglia

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  1. April 6, 2014 at 2:43 AM

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

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