Learn About Dementia
Dementia is the progressive loss of mental functions like memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities that are severe enough to impact an individual’s ability to function in daily life. Dementia is not a single disease, rather it is a group of symptoms caused by a number of conditions, some of which may be treatable. Many individuals who have dementia experience personality and behavioral changes. Dementia occurs when areas of the brain involved in learning, decision-making, language, and memory are affected by one or more infections, conditions, or diseases. While often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s disease may be the most common cause for dementia, but there are upwards of 50 other known causes for dementia to occur.
Some memory loss is common as we age, however, the memory loss associated with dementia is not considered to be normal. Dementia was once considered to be a normal part of aging, however it is not normal. As some types of dementia can be partially treated or managed, it is vital that a prompt and thorough evaluation is performed by a physician who specializes in dementia. This will allow for the greatest likelihood of success in the management and care of those struggling with dementia.
Dementia may not be a normal part of aging, but the number of individuals struggling with dementia is growing. The number of people living worldwide with dementia is estimated to be about 35.6 million, which is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. One in every three senior adults will die from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and currently over 5 million people are living with this disease.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Dementia
Dementia is caused by damage of the nerve cells of the brain, which can occur in different areas of the brain. Dementia affects each person differently depending upon individual makeup and the area of the brain that is affected. Dementias are usually classified by their commonalities, area of the brain affected, and the disease course.
Progressive Dementias include:
- Alzheimer’s disease: The most common cause of dementia in individuals over the age of 65, this disease is thought to be the result of damage to the brain caused by plaques and tangles that lead to a progressive pattern of declining cognitive abilities.
- Frontotemporal dementia: This form of dementia is often found in younger individuals and is caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the temporal and frontal areas of the brain.
- Lewy body dementia: Affecting 10 to 22% of individuals with dementia, Lewy body dementia symptoms are caused by Lewy bodies – abnormal clumps of protein in the brain.
- Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia is the second most common cause for dementia and is caused by brain damage due to reduced or impeded flow of blood to the brain – such as that seen in strokes.
Other Disorders Linked To Dementia include:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: This rare disease can be caused by exposure to diseased brain matter or inherited from a family member. Symptoms tend to appear around age 60.
- HIV-associated dementia: HIV infection destroys brain matter and can lead to dementia.
- Huntington’s disease: This fatal genetic disease causes wasting of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and tends to appear in younger individuals – between ages 30 and 40.
- Secondary dementia: Individuals who have movement disorders or other conditions may develop dementia as a part of their disease process.
- Traumatic brain injury: Repetitive or single head trauma can lead to injury of the brain. When this injury to the brain occurs in specific areas of the brain, it can lead to dementia.
- Infections and immune disorders: Dementia may be the result of side effects of the body’s immune response to infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.
- Medication reactions: Some individuals may experience dementia symptoms as a result of taking a single medication or a combination of medications.
- Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities: Individuals who have thyroid abnormalities, hypoglycemia, or improper balance of sodium or calcium in their blood may develop dementia.
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus: Enlarged ventricles in the brain can lead to problems with memory.
- Subdural hematoma: A bleed in the brain can lead to symptoms of dementia. When the swelling and bleeding have gone down, the symptoms of dementia may abate if permanent damage did not occur.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
The symptoms of dementia will vary greatly based upon type of dementia, course of the disease progression, and individual makeup. The most common symptoms of dementia include the following:
- Loss of memory
- Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
- Inability to form new short-term memories
- Trouble finding the right words
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Misplacing personal items
- Personality changes
- Loss of social skills
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulties recalling events
- Difficulties recognizing people
- Trouble exercising judgment
- Challenges controlling moods or behaviors
- Decreased personal hygiene
- Challenges communicating
- Difficulties with planning and organizing
- Loss of reasoning abilities
- Inappropriate behaviors
- Difficulties completing complex tasks
Effects of Dementia
The long-term effects of dementia can lead to an inability to carry out even the most routine daily activities. Long-term effects of dementia may include:
- Improper nutrition
- Inability to chew or swallow
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Decreased appetite
- Forgetting to eat or drink
- Inability to independently dress, bathe, or toilet
- Difficulties in taking medications
- Lack of inhibitions
- Difficulties recalling names of people and things
- Trouble understanding others
- Deficits in ability to remain safe
- Reduced decision-making abilities
- Difficulties navigating environment
- Injuries from falls