Understanding the signs of dementia
Dementia is not one single disorder, but instead refers to a collection of symptoms that includes the progressive loss of mental functions such as memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities. The decline in mental functioning associated with dementia is so severe that it impacts an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis. Many men and women who have dementia lose control of their behaviors and emotions, develop personality changes, and have a diminished ability to solve problems. Certain forms of dementia may be treatable, but in most cases there is no cure.
Dementia occurs when parts of the brain that are involved in memory, decision-making, learning, and language are affected by one or more infections, diseases, or injuries to the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, however up to fifty other types of dementia have been identified. Since some forms of dementia can be partially treated or managed, it is important to seek prompt treatment from a physician who specializes in dementia. Earlier detection will allow for a greater likelihood that an individual will have success in managing their dementia.
Dementia was once considered to be a normal part of aging. Today we know that while some age-related benign memory loss is normal, dementia is not normal. Dementia should never be considered a normal part of the aging process. With proper care, effective medications, and prompt treatment, people who have dementia can lead longer and more fulfilled lives.
Statistics for dementia
It’s estimated that 35.6 million people worldwide are currently living with dementia. That number will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in people aged 65 and older and affects 5.2 million people in the United States. One in every 3 senior adults will die from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause for dementia, accounting for nearly 20% of all cases of dementia.
Causes & risk factors for dementia
All types of dementia are the result of the death of nerve cells and/or the loss of communication among these cells. There are a great number of causes for dementia and while some of them are reversible, many are not. While researchers are currently investigating the causes for dementia, we’re still lacking full information about all the factors that can lead to the development of the disorder. Some of the most well-known causes include:
Genetic: Research indicates that dementia runs in families, and having a family history of dementia will put you at a greater risk for developing dementia. Other genetic causes include Alzheimer’s disorder, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
Physical: There is a variety of biological reasons that can cause an individual to develop dementia. Cardiovascular problems can lead to vascular dementia due to lack of oxygen supply to the brain cells. Nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances have also been known to cause dementia. Additional biological reasons include Lewy-body dementia, hypoxia, frontotemporal dementia, and brain tumors.
Environmental: Certain environmental factors and life circumstances can lead to the development of dementia, such as traumatic brain injuries, HIV, poisoning, adverse medical reactions, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
- Increasing age
- Being female
- Heart disease and atherosclerosis
- History of drug or alcohol use
- Prior smoker
- Down syndrome
- High cholesterol
- Mild cognitive impairment
Symptoms of dementia
The symptoms of dementia are different depending on individual circumstances, such as genetic makeup, type of dementia, and the length of time an individual has been dealing with the dementia. The further along an individual is in the stages of dementia, the worse the symptoms become. Some of the more common symptoms of dementia can include the following, broken down into stages:
- Memory loss is usually the earliest and most easily recognized symptom of dementia
- Decline in personal appearance
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Trouble remembering recent events or recognizing places and people
- Difficulties planning and carrying out tasks
- Challenges controlling moods and behaviors.
- Challenges in judgment – such as being unable to react if there is an emergency
- Decreased ability to care for oneself
- Personality changes
- Worsening of symptoms of early dementia
- Abnormal moods
- Inability to learn new information
- Increasing disorientation even in familiar environments
- Requiring help to complete everyday tasks
- Confabulation – strongly-held belief that a person has done something he or she has not
- Inability to pay attention
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Worsening of symptoms of early and intermediate dementia
- May be unable to walk without assistance
- Impaired movements
- Inability to swallow
- Complete dependence upon caregivers
- Loss of short-term and long-term memory
- Complications from symptoms: incontinence, malnutrition, bedsores
Effects dementia can have
The long term effects of dementia will vary among those diagnosed with dementia based upon the type of dementia, stage of the disease, and other existing medical disorders. Some of the most common effects of dementia may include:
- Personal safety challenges
- Emotional health deterioration
- Increased infections
- Challenges taking medications
- Difficulties communicating
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Sleep problems
- Reduction of personal hygiene
- Inadequate nutrition
Dementia & co-occurring disorders
There are a number of additional disorders that may co-occur with dementia. Some of these disorders may include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Depressive disorder
- Vascular disease