current techniques for diagnosis and treatment of dementia
Dementia is one of the most difficult challenges in modern
neuroscience. It still can’t be cured, and the vast majority of new drug trials
have ended in failure. In fact, no new drugs have been approved for the
treatment of dementia in well over a decade. Researchers conclude that while
much more effective treatments may become available in the near future, the
current best course of action in dealing with dementia is to identify and begin
treating its symptoms as early as possible.
This is easier said than done however, given that dementia
not fully understood, and its range of risk factors vary from genetics to
lifestyle choices and even past injuries. In this post, we go over the current
cutting-edge techniques used to diagnose and treat dementia.
Testing & Complications in Diagnosing Dementia
The criteria for a dementia diagnosis is that two or more basic mental
functions are sufficiently impaired so as to complicate a patient's daily life.
Some of these are:
· Language & Communications Skills
· Ability to Focus
· Ability to Pay Attention
· Problem Solving
Ability to Reason
Even then, accurately determining the type of dementia can
be challenging. For this reason, dementia has been notoriously
difficult to diagnose and treat early. The current standard battery of
tests to identify and diagnose dementia are:
- Psychiatric Evaluation This is obviously the most sensible first step. A qualified medical professional is usually able to ascertain within a few sessions whether or not a patient suffers from any psychiatric disorders that might contribute to or exacerbate symptoms of dementia. This can include depression, recent traumas or even alcoholism.
- Neurological & Cognitive Testing Doctors begin with a series of tests, known formally as a cognitive screening, to gauge a patient's core mental functioning ability. Then a series of brain scans (most commonly CT, MRI and PET scans) are performed to assess brain activity patterns, as well as check for evidence of bleeding, a tumour or stroke.
- Laboratory Testing Finally, cerebrospinal fluid (commonly known as CSF or simply spinal fluid) is checked for evidence of inflammation, infection or indicators of other degenerative diseases. Blood samples can also be checked for signs of vitamin deficiencies or thyroid issues, both of which have adverse effects on healthy brain function.
Therapies & Medication in Managing Symptoms of Dementia
While dementia cannot be cured as of this writing, there are
some popular forms of medication prescribed to improve symptoms of the disease.
Memantine is a
regulator of glutamate (i.e. glutamic acid), which is the most abundant
neurotransmitter in the vertebrate nervous system. It is used as a communicator
between nerve cells and other cells.
Rivastigmine, Galantamine and Donepezil are examples of acetylcholinesterase
inhibitors, which suppress the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine. Increasing the levels and duration of this chemical messenger
has been shown to improve symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
diseases, as well as vascular and Lewy body dementia.
Symptoms and exacerbating factors of dementia can also be
improved without the use of drugs, as with the use of occupational therapy. A
qualified professional cannot only keep relatives on top of the progression of
patients' degenerative diseases; they can teach coping skills and accident
prevention protocols as well.
At-Home Therapies & Waiting For a Cure
Finally, there are a number of lifestyle changes relatives
and loved ones can make at home. Things like communications exercises,
establishing routines and encouraging detail-oriented hobbies (such as
gardening) are very good examples. Setting goals and planning for the future
can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with dementia – even as
the world waits for on-going studies and clinical trials to finally turn up a
viable method of treatment.