Is Dementia a Mental Illness?

Is dementia a mental illness? When you think about the symptoms of dementia, it would be very easy to classify dementia as a mental illness, but unlike conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar, dementia is not an actual disease as such—rather it is a term that refers to a series of non-specific symptoms.

Is dementia a mental illness?

A mental illness is a specific disease that affects a person’s cognitive abilities. Schizophrenia would be described as a mental illness because it affects the brain and causes symptoms such as hallucinations, delusional behavior, paranoia, and a host of other mental health related issues.

Dementia is often used by ordinary people when referring to patients suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but doctors use the term “dementia” when describing a patient exhibiting symptoms of cognitive decline, memory problems, difficulties with language, solving problems, and attention.

What are the symptoms of dementia caused by?

As with mental illnesses, dementia can arise as a result of abnormalities in the brain caused by a degenerative disease or chemical imbalance, but the symptoms of dementia can also be a result of a brain injury or localized damage caused by a stroke. Symptoms of dementia can be described as progressive, for example the dementia seen in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, or static, as would be the case in a patient exhibiting the symptoms of dementia following a serious brain injury.

What is the main cause of dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease is the biggest cause of cases of dementia, along with vascular dementia, but there are also a large number of dementia cases caused by Dementia with Lewy bodies. In younger patients, inherited Alzheimer’s disease accounts for a large number of cases, but Huntington and Frontotemporal lobar degeneration is another cause.

Are the symptoms of dementia the same as diseases such as schizophrenia?

Although dementia can also cause symptoms such as delusional behavior and hallucinations that are very similar to illnesses such as schizophrenia and the manic stage of bi-polar disorder, particularly in the latter stages of a dementia-type illness, because dementia is not a specific disease, it cannot be classed as a mental illness.

Is dementia a mental illness and how is it diagnosed?

More than a century ago “dementia” was used by doctors to cover a very broad range of mental health conditions, including many diseases where the symptoms of cognitive decline were not permanent, and pretty much anyone who showed signs of cognitive dysfunction was considered to be “demented”. Age related dementia cases were relatively rare a hundred years ago due to the fact the majority of people did not live long enough to fall victim to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

For dementia to be diagnosed as a condition in today’s more enlightened times, the symptoms must have been present for at least six months. Unlike recognized mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, the symptoms of dementia are normally permanent and tend to occur in patients aged 65 and above. However, a small percentage of dementia cases are seen in younger patients and this is referred to as “early onset dementia”.

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