Dementia and the role of MRIs in diagnosis

Dementia is a debilitating disease which is characterized by a serious decline in the mental abilities of the people affected by it.

Causing problems in daily functioning and interfering with day to day activities, dementia is a common and growing problem.

According to statistics, dementia is affecting 5% of the population over 65 years of age and 20% of the population that is over 80 years. In 2011, the global prevalence of dementia was found to be almost 24 million and is estimated to double every 20 years until 2040.

What is dementia – Its causes and symptoms

Dementia isn’t a single disease, rather the term “dementia” refers to a group of symptoms including but not limited to memory loss and overall impairment in cognitive functioning and mental health. There are many causes that could lead to dementia like head injury, genetic diseases, a stroke, or a brain tumor, and/or medicinal reactions. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.

The symptoms involved in dementia are severe enough to obstruct routine activities and cause a decline in one or more areas of mental activity. Cognitive and behavioral disturbances, communication, ability to learn and memorize are all severely affected by the illness.

Symptoms may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty in language and comprehension
  • Inability to focus
  • Depression and agitation
  • Difficulty in performing daily routine tasks
  • Difficulty in controlling emotions
  • Changes in personality
  • Apathy, and aggressive behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in social interaction

How to diagnose dementia?

With multiple possible causes of the illness, diagnosing dementia can be very challenging. The process comprises two crucial steps:

  • Finding out the underlying cause of the illness and determining whether it is treatable at a certain stage or not.
  • Accurately diagnosing the subtype of dementia to plan out a treatment and management plan for the patient.

There are different methods to diagnose dementia ranging from psychological and cognitive scales to neuroimaging techniques. Cognitive dementia tests are widely used as a verified and reliable way of indicating dementia; it can’t, however, diagnose the underlying causes of the disease. To accurately test the real cause of dementia, neuroimaging techniques like a brain scan, CT scan (computerized tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are used.

A brain scan is often used for diagnosing dementia after other possible causes of the symptoms have been ruled out. Helping find the evidence of dementia, it rules out problems like major stroke or a brain tumor as a possible cause of dementia or related symptoms. Once the presence of dementia has been established, other more advanced techniques like CT scan and MRI are employed to diagnose dementia subtypes for a more accurate clinical diagnosis.

Out of these techniques, MRI is said to be the best and most reliable way to diagnose the underlying cause. In fact, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that an MRI  scan should be preferred to make an early diagnosis and detect subcortical vascular changes in a patient with dementia.

Role of MRI in diagnosis

MRI makes use of radio waves and a strong magnetic field to project a detailed image of the patient’s brain. Doctors are currently struggling to diagnose dementia early and accurately to prevent delayed treatment of the patients. MRI, however, can help with the situation as it is noninvasive and easy to administer. Known to cause no adverse effects even after repeated procedures, MRI scan can be performed on everyone except few exceptions like people with pacemakers or certain metallic implants.

MRI is generally considered to be a superior tool for brain imaging as compared to other tools like CT scan due to the absence of ionizing radiation. In addition to that, the images generated through it are more detailed with better tissue contrast. MRIs are known to discover even the smallest details about strokes, and other blood vessel irregularities that CT scans don’t.

The entire process takes an hour or so and is painless for all. It can, however, make some people feel claustrophobic inside the machine due to a small and tight space.

How is dementia treated?

Dementia can cause serious effects on a person’s ability to function, but it can still be managed with proper care. There is no cure for dementia, but the rate of progression can be slowed and controlled by apt precautions and treatment.

There are different options available based on the stage of dementia including;

  • Therapies

There are various therapies that can help the patient, some of which can be done with the help of a therapist and some by the patient himself.

  1. An expert therapist shows how to make the home safer for the patient and also teaches them various coping behaviors to deal with the symptoms. This helps the patient better prepare themselves for future and manage their behavior accordingly.
  2. Patient or their caregivers can modify their surroundings to help the symptoms. Some of these include decluttering the environment so the patient can maintain focus without getting distracted.
  3. Another way to help the patient is to form a routine to help reduce confusion in people with dementia. Break tasks into small parts so they can focus and complete them without mixing them up.
  • Medication

Different medications can be administered based on the stage the patient is diagnosed at. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Cholinesterase inhibitors are usually prescribed and are said to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. These inhibitors help boost the levels of a chemical messenger involved in memory and judgment.
  2. People with dementia can also be prescribed antipsychotics based on whether or not they are showing behavioral problems like aggression or agitation.

Even though dementia is known to cause severe impairment in daily functioning and can bring about marked mental health issues, it can efficiently be managed with early intervention and precautionary measures.

Seek professional help if you feel that you are forgetting things or feeling disoriented for a possible diagnosis so you can get ahead of your illness, have it diagnosed on time and start with the required medications at the earliest.

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