Dementia is loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases.
Dementia due to metabolic causes is a loss of brain function that can occur with abnormal chemical processes in the body. If these processes can be treated soon enough, brain function can return to normal. Left untreated, these chemical abnormalities cause permanent brain damage and dementia.
Disorders of the mitochondria (energy-producing parts of cells)
Rapid changes in sodium level
Metabolic disorders may cause confusion and changes in thinking or reasoning. These changes may be short-term or lasting. Dementia occurs when the symptoms are not reversible. Symptoms can be different for everyone. They depend on the health condition causing the dementia.
The early symptoms of dementia can include:
Difficulty with tasks that take some thought but used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines
Getting lost on familiar routes
Language problems, such as trouble with names of familiar objects
Losing interest in things previously enjoyed, flat mood
Personality changes and loss of social skills, which can lead to inappropriate behaviors
As the dementia gets worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to take care of yourself:
Changing sleep patterns, often waking up at night
Forgetting details about current events, forgetting events in one's life history
Having difficulty doing basic tasks, such as preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, or driving
Having hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and behaving violently
More difficulty reading or writing
Poor judgment and losing the ability to recognize danger
Using the wrong word, not pronouncing words correctly, speaking in confusing sentences
Withdrawing from social contact
The person may also have symptoms from the disorder that caused dementia.
Exams and Tests
An examination of the nervous system (neurologic examination) can show different problems, depending on the cause.
Tests to diagnose a medical condition causing the dementia may include:
Treatment focuses on managing the disorder and controlling symptoms. With some metabolic disorders, treatment may stop or even reverse the dementia symptoms.
Medications used to treat Alzheimer disease have not been shown to work for this type of dementia. Sometimes these drugs are used anyway, when other treatments are unable to control the underlying problems.
Plans should also be made for home care for a loved one with dementia.
Outcome varies, depending on the cause of the dementia and the amount of damage to the brain.
Symptoms of the underlying problem (such as loss of sensation due to a nerve injury from vitamin B12 deficiency)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment if symptoms get worse or continue. Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if there is a sudden change in mental status or a life-threatening emergency.
Treating the metabolic disorder may reduce the risk of developing this type of dementia.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.