Dementia: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

What is Dementia?

Dementia describes a group of symptoms which severely affects memory, thinking and social abilities enough to impede with daily activities.

Dementia may have to basically do with memory loss, but memory loss has different causes. So it may not necessarily mean a person has dementia if he/she suffers memory loss.

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults. However, symptoms can be reversed depending on the cause of dementia.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia is caused by damage of nerve cells in the brain, which can occur in several parts of the brain. Dementia affects people differently, depending on the area of the brain affected.

Dementias are often categorized by what they have in common, such as the part of the brain that’s affected or whether they deteriorate over time (progressive dementias). Some dementias might improve with treatment, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or vitamin deficiencies.

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Dementia covers many different conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and other disorders. Simple amnesia is not enough to lead to a diagnosis of dementia.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms differ depending on the cause, but common symptoms may include:

Cognitive changes such as;

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating or completing sentences
  • repeat questions or stories regularly
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • showing signs of poor judgment
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Difficulty reasoning
  • Difficulty handling/solving simple or complex tasks
  • Difficulty with organizing

Psychological changes include;

  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • may get lost in familiar environments

Types of Dementia

There are several types of dementia:

  • Alzheimer’s disease– This type of dementia is characterized by plaques between the dying cells in the brain due to protein abnormalities. The brain tissue in a person with Alzheimer’s has gradually fewer nerve cells and connections, the total brain size also shrinks.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies– is a neurodegenerative condition connected to abnormal structures in the brain. The brain changes involve a protein called alpha-synuclein.
  • Mixed dementia– This refers to a diagnosis of two or three types taking place together. A person may show symptoms of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time.
  • Parkinson’s disease is also marked by the presence of Lewy bodies. Parkinson’s can also lead to symptoms of dementia even though it is often considered a disorder of movement.
  • Huntington’s diseaseis categorized by specific types of uncontrolled movements but also includes dementia.
  • Frontotemporal dementiaalso known as Pick’s disease.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephaluswhen excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain.
  • Posterior cortical atrophy may have similar symptoms like Alzheimer’s disease but occurs in a different part of the brain.
  • Down syndrome increases the possibility of early Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosis of Dementia

Testing is performed by doctors to diagnosis dementia. Screening assessments are sometimes enough to confirm a diagnosis or a deeper evaluation is needed. Blood testing and imaging studies are often completed to confirm conditions such as thyroid disease or certain vitamin deficiencies.

Stages of dementia

The stages of dementia are grouped into mild, moderate, and severe categories. Some patients may fall into two different stages at the same time, depending on their symptoms. The different stages of dementia cannot be used to forecast how rapidly someone’s condition might progress and patients may remain in one stage for many years or for only a few months. The progression of symptoms vary for each patient.

Early signs and symptoms of dementia

Early signs of dementia may include:

  • Simple forgetfulness
  • Losing items
  • Problems performing tasks or activities that were previously done easily. Difficulty with learning new material

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Many patients with early Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias are unaware that they have any problem. As the disease progresses, behavioral changes can become palpable, such as;

  • Difficulty getting dressed or using the bathroom
  • Forget pieces of information about themselves, including their address or telephone number, or even their date of birth
  • Problems remembering to eat, leading to weight loss.

In late stages of dementia, patients often cannot recognize family members and their ability to converse efficiently is strikingly reduced. They are no longer able to effectively care for themselves and require assistance for all activities of daily living. Patients may even forget how to walk or to sit up in the long run.

Risk factors for Dementia

The major risk factors for developing dementia include age and family history. Other conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, increase the risks of developing either Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Abnormal genes which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, but are only rarely involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatment for Dementia

Treatment options for dementia is limited. There are medications available to try to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, however the effect of these medications is limited. Physical exercise has been shown to be of some benefit in helping to maintain reasoning. Staying engaged and participating in social events may also be helpful. No treatment has yet been identified to reverse the process of Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevention of Dementia

There is no way to totally prevent the development of dementia, but different activities have been identified which might decrease the risk. These include: Maintaining optimal health, like cholesterol, blood sugars and blood pressure

  • Staying physically active
  • Avoiding use of tobacco
  • Avoiding excessive intake of alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight,
  • Preventing head injuries by taking appropriate safety measures
  • Get enough vitamin D – People with low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Vitamin D can be gotten through certain foods, sun exposure and supplements.

 

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