Learn More About Dementia
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of disorders that lead to a progressive decline in mental functioning including memory loss, deterioration in cognitive skills, and a gradual loss of reasoning abilities. The loss of brain functioning can become so severe that it can impact a person’s ability to function in day-to-day life. Once considered a normal part of aging, it’s now understood that dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Symptoms of dementia are caused due to damage to areas of the brain responsible for decision-making, learning, communication, and memory. This damage may be the result of infections, diseases, or other conditions. Dementia consists of a group of over 50 known disorders, some of which may be treatable, which is why early detection and treatment is necessary. In addition, early detection is important as it allows those with dementia and their loved ones to make decisions regarding the future and plan for long-term care down the road.
Statistics of Dementia
The number of individuals diagnosed with dementia is on the rise. It’s estimated that worldwide, approximately 36 million people are living with dementia, a number that’s expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. Currently, one in every three older adults will die from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is currently the 6th leading cause for death in the United States.
Causes and Risk Factors for Dementia
Dementia is caused by damage to the neurons in the brain. Symptoms will depend upon the area of the brain affected and therefore affect each person differently. The most commonly noted causes for dementia include:
Progressive Dementiasare those that begin slowly and worsen over several years, caused by conditions that affect the neurons in the brain and lead to slow loss of function of these cells.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in those age 65 and older. Alzheimer’s is thought to be caused by progressive damage to the brain caused by tangles and plaques that cause a predictable pattern of destruction and subsequent decline in cognitive abilities.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. It is caused by damage to various areas of the brain caused by a reduction or loss of blood flow to the brain, often caused by strokes.
Lewy body dementia is caused by the presence of Lewy bodies; abnormal clumps of protein found in neurons that leads to cognitive decline, most notably in executive functioning.
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the degeneration of neurons in the frontal and temporal areas of the brain. Most commonly, frontotemporal dementia is seen in younger people.
Other Disorders Linked to Dementia
HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder is caused by the destruction of brain matter caused by the HIV/AIDS virus leading to disabling cognitive impairment and motor dysfunction.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare, incurable neurodegenerative disease caused by exposure to diseased brain matter or through familial inheritance. Prions, or misfolded proteins, replicate by conversion of their properly -formed counterparts leads to rapidly developing holes in brain tissue.
Huntington’s disease is a fatal, genetic disease that leads to gradual wasting of the nerve cells located in the brain and spinal cord. Huntington’s disease tends to have an onset between the ages of 30 and 40.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is single or repeated trauma to the head that can lead to brain injury; if the brain injury occurs in specific areas of the brain, TBI can lead to dementia.
Potentially Reversible Dementias
Brain tumors rarely lead to dementia, however depending upon the area of the brain affected, they may lead to dementia.
Anoxia, or inadequate oxygen supply to the brain can lead to hypoxia, which can impact concentration and memory.
Infections can lead to dementia or may be part of the body’s immune response to infections like encephalitis or meningitis.
Medication in some instances can potential cause some individuals to experience symptoms of dementia. Symptoms of dementia dissipate when the medication is stopped.
Normal-pressure hydrocephalus leads to collection of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain which can cause problems with memory (among other symptoms). The surgical placement of a shunt can drain the excess CSF and restore memory functioning.
Metabolic problems, nutritional deficiencies, and endocrine anomalies can lead to symptoms of dementia that may be reversible with medication therapies. These may include thyroid deficiencies, hypoglycemia, dehydration, thiamine deficiency, or improper levels of calcium or sodium in the blood.
Subdural hematoma, or a bleed between the surface of the brain and the dura mater can lead to dementia-like symptoms. When the swelling and bleeding has been reduced, symptoms of dementia tend to disappear
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Since there are many different types of dementia, the signs and symptoms will vary from person to person depending upon the type of dementia they have and at what stage of the disease they are in. The most common symptoms of dementia include:
- Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Decreased ability to communicate
- Misplacing personal items
- Inappropriate behaviors
- Loss of social skills
- Behavioral changes
- Deterioration of physical appearance
- Decreased personal hygiene
- Inability to perform day to day tasks
- Difficulty swallowing
- Increased risk for infections
- Change in sleep patterns
- Change in eating patterns
- Weight loss
- Loss of memory
- Decreased ability to form new short-term memories
- Trouble finding the right words
- Difficulties recognizing people
- Changes in reasoning abilities
- Trouble exercising good judgment
- Challenges completing complex tasks
- Difficulties recalling events
- Changes in personality
- Increased anxiety
- Mood swings
Effects of Dementia
Dementia is a progressive, untreatable disease and overtime it can affect the functioning of many of the systems in the body causing an individual to have difficulty carrying out daily tasks. Some of the most common complications of dementia include:
- Inadequate nutrition
- Forgetting to eat or drink
- Loss of control to chew or swallow food
- Reduced hygiene
- Difficulty taking medication
- Deterioration of mental health
- Hard time communicating
- Sleep difficulties
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Increased risk of falling, getting lost, or getting around obstacles
Co-Occurring Disorders of Dementia
Many people who are diagnosed with dementia struggle with another mental health disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders