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What are the Most Common Causes of Dementia?

Dementia is a condition in which two or more of a person's important brain functions are diminished. Among the areas that can be affected are memory, ability to retain knowledge, coordination, judgment, and personality. Sometimes the causes of dementia are unknown, but in other cases the causes of dementia are Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, drug interactions, or some types of poisoning. Depending on the type of dementia, a person may become paranoid, may lose the ability to communicate, or may see hallucinations.

Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common causes of dementia. This disease is called "progressive" because the condition usually gets progressively worse as time passes. While the exact causes of Alzheimer’s is unknown, the result is that certain types of brain cells are damaged or killed. Plaques are bits of protein that are normally eliminated from the brain, but become hard and cannot be dissolved in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients. In addition, the protein "tau" in structures known as tangles, which normally helps transport substances like nutrients within nerve cells, ceases to work properly in Alzheimer’s patients.

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Not all forms of dementia are progressive. Some are able to be stopped, and in some cases reversed. Some of the causes of dementia that can be "cured" include heavy metal poisoning, reactions to drugs, and reactions to interactions between drugs. Other causes of dementia that can be reversed include dementia as a result of the inability to absorb vitamin B-12, dementia caused by thyroid problems, and dementia resulting from brain tumors.

There are forms of dementia that are associated with other medical conditions. Like Alzheimer's disease, the symptoms of these forms of dementia cannot be reversed. One of the causes of this type of dementia is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When HIV develops into acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, patients can develop HIV-associated dementia, which can result in memory loss and apathy.

Treatments for dementia vary according to the individual. Most treatments for progressive dementia focus on the symptoms as progressive dementia cannot be cured. For an Alzheimer’s disease patient, a physician may prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors in order to help retain memories, to improve the decision making process, and to help improve or maintain learning abilities. A doctor may also prescribe medications to treat contributing medical conditions, such as drugs to treat diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Physicians may also suggest that a person who has dementia get counseling or join a support group after diagnosis to help cope with the disease as long as possible.

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