Dementia is a loss of brain function over weeks, months, or years that occurs with certain diseases.
Dementia due to metabolic causes is a loss of brain function that can occur with diabetes, thyroid disease, and other metabolic disorders. The term "metabolic" refers to the physical and chemical processes in the body.
Dementia that occurs with metabolic disorders may cause confusion and changes in thinking or reasoning. These changes may be short-term or lasting. Dementia symptoms can be different for everyone. They depend on the health condition causing the dementia.
The early symptoms of dementia can include:
Difficulty performing tasks that 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 having trouble finding the name of familiar objects
Losing interest in things you previously enjoyed, flat mood
Personality changes and loss of social skills
As the dementia get 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
Having more difficulty reading or writing
Using 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
Note: The person may also have symptoms from the disorder that caused dementia.
Signs and tests
An examination of the nervous system (neurologic examination) can show different problems, depending on the cause. Abnormal reflexes may be present.
Tests to diagnose a medical condition causing the dementia may include:
Treatment focuses on managing the disorder and controlling symptoms.
Medications used to treat Alzheimer's disease have not been shown to work for this type of dementia. However, sometimes these drugs are used anyway, when other treatments are unable to control the underlying problems.
Symptoms of the underlying problem (such as loss of sensation due to a nerve injury in vitamin B12 deficiency)
Calling your health care provider
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.
DeKosky ST, Kaufer DI, Hamilton RL, Wolk DA, Lopez OL. The dementias. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann; 2008:chap 70.
Metabolic Syndrome and Risk of Dementia in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2010; 58(3):487-492.
Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.