​Dementia


Dementia (also referred to as senility) refers to a group of diseases that affect memory, thinking and social skills to a large extent. It is caused by damage to the brain cells, which interferes with the ability of the brain cells to communicate with each other. It affects the brain function as well as the ability to perform daily activities. Although dementia is accompanied by memory loss, this alone does not signify that you have dementia, as a certain amount of memory loss is a normal part of ageing. Dementia often sets in gradually, and over time, decreases your ability to think and function.

Certain types of dementia may be reversible. The causes of reversible dementia are:

  • Hypothyroidism, which is a disease of the thyroid gland

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus

  • Lyme disease, an infectious disease caused by bacteria from the bite of infected ticks

  • Neurosyphilis, an infection of the brain or spinal cord caused by a disease known as syphilis

Several diseases fall under the umbrella category of dementia, some of which are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: This is caused by injury to the blood vessels due to blood clot or stroke. It is the most common type of dementia.

  • Vascular dementia: This is the second most common type of dementia, and it is caused by disease or injury to blood vessels that damage the brain, including strokes.

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: This type of dementia causes tremors, hallucinations and muscle rigidity. It primarily affects your motor skills.

  • Parkinson's disease dementia: This type of dementia affects patients with Parkinson’s disease, which is a disorder of the nervous system.   

There are several other types of dementia as well including frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.


Symptoms of dementia differ, depending on the type and level of the disease. The most common symptoms are:

  • Memory loss

  • Difficulty in concentrating

  • Difficulty in communicating

  • Difficulty with coordination

  • Loss of motor functions

  • Disorientation

  • Personality changes

  • Inappropriate behaviour

  • Paranoia

  • Agitation

  • Hallucinations

If you or a loved one is facing memory loss or other related symptoms, or you notice a change in his/her emotional state and social behaviour, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor immediately. You can obtain additional information and expert medical advice from the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

There isn’t one particular test that can be used to determine if you have dementia. Your doctor will diagnose your particular type of dementia after taking a careful medical history, conducting a thorough physical examination, and performing laboratory tests to observe your thinking process, day-to-day functions and behaviour. Doctors can determine if you have dementia but it's harder to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms often overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose "dementia" and not specify a type at all.

Following types of tests are generally conducted to diagnose dementia:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests: These will be used to evaluate your cognitive (thinking) abilities such as memory, orientation, reasoning, language and attention.

  • Neurological evaluation: These types of tests will be used to evaluate your movement, balance and reflexes.

  • Brain scans: Brain imaging tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to check for evidence of stroke and rule out the possibility of a tumour.

  • Laboratory tests: Causes of reversible dementia such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or underactive thyroid gland can be determined with simple blood tests. One test is a lumbar puncture, which a painful procedure of collecting fluid sample from your spine. A needle will be inserted into your spine to extract fluid. The fluid sample thus collected is an important part of diagnosing DRD. This procedure is done in the neurophysiology lab. The cerebrospinal test will support the diagnosis of normal pressure hydrocephalus

Psychiatric evaluation: A mental health specialist such as psychologist or psychiatrist may evaluate whether depression or another psychological condition may be causing your symptoms, which appear to be the same as dementia symptoms at times.

Treatment for dementia depends on the type of illness. If your symptoms are mild, you may only need limited intervention and medication to manage symptoms.

For more advanced cases, considerable treatment and therapy is required. Medications are used to improve symptoms such as insomnia and depression, but they cannot cure the underlying cause. Therapy is often recommended for patients with dementia. A therapist will help you to reduce stress and learn to manage your symptoms in a more informed manner.

A therapeutic lumbar puncture or a ventriculoperitoneal shunt may be helpful in cases of normal pressure hydrocephalus.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.
 
The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.
 
The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.




The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.