Dementia is an organic brain syndrome which results in global cognitive impairments. Dementia can occur as a result of a variety of neurological diseases. Some of the more well known dementing diseases include Alzheimer's disease (AD), multi-infarct dementia (MID), and Huntington's disease (HD). Throughout this essay the emphasis will be placed on AD (also known as dementia of the Alzheimer's type, and primary degenerative dementia), because statistically it is the most significant dementing disease occurring in over 50% of demented patients (see epidemiology).
The clinical picture in dementia is very similar to delirium, except for the course. Delirium is an acute transitory disorder. By contrast Dementia is a long term progressive disorder (with the exception of the reversible dementias). The course of AD can range anywhere from 1.5 to 15 years with an average of about 8.1 years (Terry , 1988). AD is usually divided into three stages mild, moderate, and severe.
Throughout these stages a specific sequence of cognitive deterioration is observed (Lezak, 1993). The mild stage begins with memory, attention, speed dependent activities, and abstract reasoning dysfunction. Also mild language impairments begin to surface. In the moderate stage, language deficits such as aphasia and apraxia become prominent. Dysfluency, paraphasias, and bizzare word combinations are common midstage speech defects. In the severe stage the patient is gradually reduced to a vegetative state. Speech becomes nonfluent, repetitive, and largely non-communicative. Auditory comprehension is exceedingly limited, with many patients displaying partial or complete mutism. Late in the course of the disease many neuropsychological functions can no longer be measured. Also primitive reflexes such as grasp and suck emerge. Death usually results from a disease such as pneumonia which overwhelms the limited vegetative functions of the patient.
Dementia is commonly differentiated along two dimensions: age and cortical level. The first dimension,