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Dementia Symptoms


Posted on May 12, 2008 by DementiaGuide

What happens when dementia strikes?

Dementia is a complex disease and the symptoms are many. Dementia originates in the cerebral cortex of the brain, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of the brain's mass and controls sensory functions such as hearing, vision, and touch, and cognitive functions such as thought, perception, and communication. Thus, once the cerebral cortex starts to degenerate, the person with dementia experiences difficulty in his or her ability to think, feel, understand, speak, and act. As dementia progresses, the person will experience trouble performing basic life functions that were once second nature.

The cerebral cortex: form and function

To understand the symptoms of dementia, it is helpful to understand the form and function of the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain. The cerebral cortex is made up of four lobes: the parietal lobe which controls the processing of sensory cues from the body; the frontal lobe which controls abstract thinking ability and is required to make decisions, solve problems, and plan for future events; the occipital lobe which controls vision, and the temporal lobe which controls emotion, hearing, memory, and language.

As you can see, the cerebral cortex plays a crucial role in our ability to function on a daily basis. Thus, at the onset of dementia, when the four lobes of the cerebral cortex begin to degenerate, one may experience an exhaustive list of symptoms as a result.

Dementia symptoms explained

The following is an explanation of the different types of dementia symptoms:

Cognitive Symptoms

People with dementia experience limitations in their ability to think in abstract terms, as changes to the frontal lobe of their brains impair their ability to focus on one thing or maintain interest long enough to make judgments, future plans, and decisions. The inability to focus coupled with problems hearing, remembering, and speaking which result from changes in the temporal lobe may also lead to trouble with speech and communication. All of this tends to limit the person's ability to interact in social settings.

Sensory Symptoms and Physical Changes

Due to changes in the cerebral cortex, persons with dementia often experience changes in mobility and balance. Thus, basic functions like walking, standing, and sitting may become increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. The person with dementia may also experience problems eating as his or her ability to chew and swallow is impaired. Finally, the person with dementia may experience general safety risks as their ability to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch is compromised. For this reason, many persons with dementia may require around the clock supervision as their disease progresses.

Behavioral Changes

Largely due to the changes in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain that control abstract thought, emotions, hearing, memory, and language, respectively, persons with dementia often experience an impaired ability to judge situations and communicate. For this reason, persons with dementia may behave in an inappropriate manner and lack the insight to understand that they are acting strangely. For example, if upset or frustrated, a person with dementia may act out using aggressive and hostile language, or sometimes, violence. Likewise, due to increasing confusing and disorientation, a person with dementia may do things like talk very loudly in a library, or laugh aloud when someone is crying.

Personality Changes

Due to the confusion, loss of independence and impaired ability to communicate and perform basic life functions on their own, persons with dementia are likely to experience anger, anxiety, frustration, irritability, sadness, and low self-esteem. Often times these emotional changes result in a depressed and indifferent mood in people who were high-spirited and engaging prior to the onset of dementia. Likewise, persons with dementia may express their negative emotions by acting aggressively towards those around them, and especially towards their caregivers, towards whom they often feel a growing resentment. While these personality changes make it frustrating to engage with a person with dementia, it is important to remember these changes are part of the disease.

Additional Resources

Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia Prevention

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Last updated September 24, 2014
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