Dementia is the progressive decline of mental functions such as memory, the ability to reason, and the capacity to think. The symptoms of dementia are so extreme it affects all areas of a person’s life.
Learn More About Dementia
Dementia itself is not a disease, but rather a group of symptoms that can be caused by illnesses, genetic diseases, medications, hormone imbalances, and other conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the main cause of dementia and comprises 60-80% of all dementia cases. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia which is caused by a stroke. While historically dementia has been considered a part of the aging process, we now know that the serious mental decline associated with dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Dementia is caused by damage to the cells in the brain, which prevents the brain cells from properly communicating with one another. When damaged brain cells cannot communicate effectively this causes problems with behaviors, thinking, and emotions. Different regions in the brain carry out different functions and when certain brain cells are damaged functions are unable to be performed properly. Different types of dementia are correlated with the areas of the brain that are damaged.
Out of the large variety of different types of dementia approximately 20% of them can be partially treated or cured. This means that early detection and treatment is essential in order to be able to reverse this condition.
Statistics of Dementia
The overall prevalence of dementia varies by age and the type of dementia a person has been diagnosed with. The prevalence of dementia increases dramatically from age 60 onward. It’s estimated that between 1-2% of people at 65 years of age have some form of dementia, while at 85 years of age, the prevalence of dementia is closer to 30%.
Learn About Co-Occurring Disorders
There are a number of co-occurring disorders that can be present in individuals with dementia. While not an inclusive list, these disorders can include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alcohol abuse
- Huntington’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Normal Pressure hydrocephalus
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
Causes of Dementia
There are over fifty different causes for dementia. Some of these causes can be reversed but a large number of them cannot be. Some of the causes for dementia include:
Genetic: Research has shown that dementia runs in families. Having a family history of dementia can put you at a greater risk for developing dementia. Other genetic causes for dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease: The most common form of dementia, accounting for between 60 and 80 percent of all diagnosed cases of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is marked by stages mild, moderate, severe – and symptoms may begin with an inability to remember names and recent events, followed by impaired judgment and behavioral changes, and finally challenges with walking and swallowing.
- Huntington’s disease is a genetic, brain disorder that leads to abnormal involuntary movements, marked decline in reasoning and thinking skills, irritability, depression, and other behavioral changes.
- Parkinson’s disease: as Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder, the later stages often result in progressive dementia.
Biological: There are a great number of biological reasons in which a person develops dementia. Some of the most widely seen are:
- Vascular dementia: Cardiovascular problems, such as high cholesterol, can cause damage to blood vessels and deny the brain cells of oxygen causing dementia. Vascular dementia occurs after the brain has experienced a stroke, or a blood clot which cuts off the flow of blood to certain areas of the brain. Vascular dementia includes impaired judgment and the inability to plan for the events needed to finish a task. The location of the injury caused by the stroke affects the types of impairment a person may experience.
- Nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances.
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: a build-up of fluid in the brain can lead to challenges with movement as well as memory loss.
- Lewy-Body Dementia: This disease can include sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, as well as muscular rigidity.
- Mixed Dementia: this condition occurs when more than one type of dementia is present in the brain.
- Frontotemporal dementia: this dementia involves the nerve cells in the front and side parts of the brain. This type of dementia can cause changes in personality, behavior, as well as challenges using language.
- Hypoxia: Is caused when the brain is deprived of oxygen for a period of time which can be due to a heart attack, asthma attack, or allergic reaction. Dependent upon the length of time and area of the brain deprived of oxygen, hypoxic brain injury may be reversible.
- Brain tumors: rarely, dementia is caused by damage from a tumor in the brain, and will cause symptoms related to the area of the brain that is affected.
Environmental: There are a number of environmental causes for dementia which can include:
- Traumatic brain injuries: brain injuries, such as those associated with contact sports can cause dementia or dementia like symptoms.
- Infections or diseases: certain infections or diseases can cause degeneration of the nerve cells of the brain leading to dementia.
- HIV-Associated Dementia: the HIV virus, destroys brain cells and in its later stages, can cause memory problems, problems with concentration, and movement disorders.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: also known as “Mad Cow Disease,” is a rare brain disorder can that can occur in individuals and lead to dementia. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease may be inherited or caused by exposure to diseased tissue from the brain or central nervous system.
- Poisoning: exposure to heavy metals like lead or pesticides can lead to dementia-like symptoms.
- Adverse medication reactions: Having an adverse reaction to a single medication or a combination of medications can lead to dementia-like symptoms, often this type of dementia is reversible.
Psychological: Long term substance use and abuse can lead to certain types of dementia.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: this chronic memory disorder is caused by a marked lack of Vitamin B-1, which is often caused by alcohol abuse. This syndrome causes extreme problems with memory while leaving other cognitive capacities unaffected.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Since dementia is a group of disorders there can be a wide range of presenting symptoms, even in individuals who are suffering with dementia from the same root cause. In order to be diagnoses with a form of dementia an individual must have severe impairment in at least two of the following areas of daily living: inability to communicate and use language, impairment in judgment and reasoning, abnormal changes in visual perception, decreasing ability to focus and pay attention, or memory impairment.
Other symptoms may include and often worsen over time:
- Feeling frustrated with yourself and others
- Problems with short-term memory, such as recalling appointments or locating car keys
- Challenges carrying out routine tasks
- Placing items in abnormal areas of the house and being unable to locate these possessions
- Difficulties with tasks that require multiple steps
- Challenges with planning and organization
- Personality changes
- Becoming withdrawn and socially isolated
- Confusion about who you are and where you are
- Inability to always remember loved ones.
- Challenges interpreting visual images
- Problems judging distance
- Problems with planning
- Problems solving problems
- Difficulties with communicating with others
- Engaging in inappropriate behaviors
- Motor function difficulties
- Problems with coordination
- Trouble using logic and reasoning skills
Effects of Dementia
Dementia is a group of diseases that becomes more severe as time goes on and can affect an individual’s ability to function on their own. Some of the effects of dementia can include:
- Communication difficulties
- Improper nutrition
- Decrease in safety awareness
- Cognitive decline
- Memory decline
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Inability to care for self
- Inability to live independently