Dementia (A complete guide)

Dementia is a condition that affects memory, cognitive function, and social abilities and interferes with one’s ability to function in daily life.

Certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s include symptoms of dementia. 

In this blog article, you will learn about the signs and symptoms of dementia, risk factors, and current available treatments.  

What is dementia?

Dementia is a health condition that causes severe cognitive impairment and loss of memory.

It is important to know, however, that having memory loss alone does not mean you have dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia in older people, but there are additional causes. 

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia? 

Common signs and symptoms of dementia include the following: 

·      Memory loss, which is usually first noticed by a spouse or close friend

·      Difficulty finding the right words or communicating

·      Difficult with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving 

·      Difficulty with problem-solving or reasoning

·      Difficulty with complex tasks 

·      Problems with planning and organizing

·      Problems with coordination and motor function

·      Confusion and disorientation 

Aside from the cognitive symptoms described above, people with dementia often go through the following psychological changes: 

·      Changes in personality

·      Depression

·      Anxiety

·      Inappropriate Behavior

·      Paranoia

·      Agitation

·      Hallucination

What are the possible causes of dementia? 

Although it is unknown what the exact cause of dementia is, it is known that it involves the damage or death of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain.

Neurons are the cells of the brain that send connections to one another to coordinate behavior, thoughts, and movements.

Depending on which area in the brain is damaged, the resulting dementia can manifest as different symptoms. 

Dementias are often categorized into groups based on the type of problem that is causing the dementia.

For example, if there are proteins deposited in the brain or a different brain area affected, those would be two different groups. 

A syndrome, called the Korsakoff’s Syndrome can also cause a specific type of dementia, alcoholic dementia.

What are the different types of progressive dementia? 

Progressive dementias are irreversible and include the following:

·      Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is the most common cause of dementia. It is unknown exactly what causes AD, but experts believe that a small percentage of cases are related to mutations in three different genes, which are passed down from generation to generation.

One important gene that is known to increase the risk for development of AD is apolipoprotein E4 (APOE). 

Patients who are diagnosed with AD have plaques and tangles in their brains.

These plaques are made up of clumps of a protein known as beta-amyloid, and the tangles are fibrous tangles made up of a protein called tau.

These plaques and tangles damage the way that neurons communicate with one another.

·      Vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, and is caused by damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain.

The most common symptoms of vascular dementia are difficulty problem-solving, slowed thinking, focus, and organization. 

·      Lewy body dementia. Lewy bodies are clumps of protein shaped similar to balloons, and have been found in the brains of people with Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Signs and symptoms of Lewy body dementia include acting out dreams while sleeping, visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there), and problems focusing and maintaining attention.

Other signs include uncoordinated movement, slow movement, tremors, and rigidity (which overlap with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease). 

·      Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a group of diseases characterized by the degeneration, or breakdown, of neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

These brain areas are associated with personality, behavior, and language. Common symptoms of FTD are changes in behavior, personality, thinking, judgement, language, and movement. 

·      Mixed dementia. Many people have a combination of the above causes such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. 

What are other disorders linked to dementia? 

·      Huntington’s disease (HD). HD is a debilitating, progressive, and fatal disease caused by a genetic mutation that causes certain neurons in your brain and spinal cord to waste away.

Symptoms of HD include decline in cognitive skills. 

·     Traumatic brain injury (TBI). Repetitive head trauma can cause TBI. This type of head trauma can occur in boxers, football players, or soldiers.

TBI in certain areas of the brain can cause the signs and symptoms of dementia such as depression, explosiveness, memory loss, and impaired speech.

In some cases, TBI can cause parkinsonism. 

·      Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This is a rare brain disorder that occurs for unknown reasons.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be inherited but there is no known cause.

It might be due to deposits of infectious proteins in the brain called prions, and may be caused by exposure to diseased brain or nervous system tissue such as from a cornea transplant. 

·      Parkinson’s disease (PD). Patients who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease eventually develop dementia symptoms. 

Are there reversible forms of dementia? 

With the proper treatment, certain types of dementia-like symptoms can be reversed. These include the following: 

·      Infections and immune disorders. If you have a fever, certain types of infections, or multiple sclerosis, your body’s immune system can attack the neurons in your brain to cause dementia. 

·      Metabolic and endocrine problems. People with the following metabolic or endocrine problems can develop dementia-like symptoms: 

-Thyroid problems

-Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

-Imbalances of sodium or calcium

-Problems with vitamin B-12 absorption 

·      Nutritional deficiencies. The following nutritional deficiencies may cause dementia-like symptoms: 

-Dehydration (not drinking enough liquids)

-Deficiencies in thiamin (vitamin B-1), which is common in people who are alcoholics

-Deficiencies in vitamins B-6 and B-12 

·      Side effects of medication

·      Subdural hematomas. Bleeding between the brain and the covering of the brain (dura) can cause symptoms similar to those of dementia.

Subdural hematomas are common in the elderly after a fall. 

·      Poisoning. Exposure to certain substances such as heavy metals (i.e., lead) or pesticides can cause symptoms similar to those of dementia. 

·      Brain tumors. Dementia-like symptoms caused by a brain tumor is extremely rare, but possible. 

·      Anoxia. This condition is also called hypoxia, and occurs when the organ tissues are not getting enough oxygen.

This can occur due to asthma, heart attack, severe sleep apnea, carbon monoxide poisoning, or other reasons. 

·      Normal-pressure hydrocephalus. This condition is caused by enlarged ventricles in the brain.

It can result in problems walking, difficulty urinating, and memory loss. 

Risk factors for developing dementia

The major risk factors are age and family history. You cannot change your age or genetics, but you can change some of your lifestyle factors to reduce the risk of onset of dementia.

These factors include a healthy diet and regular exercise, reducing heavy alcohol use, and not smoking.

What are the treatments for dementia? 

Although dementia cannot yet be cured, there are treatments to help manage the symptoms.

These include cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, both of which restore certain chemicals in the brain that are involved in learning and memory. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about dementia: 

1.   What are the 10 warning signs of dementia? 

Early signs of dementia include the following: 

·      Memory loss

·      Difficulty with planning or problem solving

·      Difficulty doing tasks that are familiar 

·      Confusion about time, place, or date

·      Difficulty with understanding visual information 

·      Problems with speaking or writing 

·      Misplacing things

·      Poor judgement or decision making 

·      Withdrawal from social activities

·      Changes in mood or personality

2.   What are the 7 stages of dementia?

Prior to diagnosis, there are no signs of dementia. 

Stage one: no impairment

Stage two: very mild cognitive difficulties

Stage three: mild cognitive difficulties

Early stage-dementia includes stage four, which is characterized by moderate cognitive decline 

Mid-stage dementia includes stage five, which is characterized by moderately severe cognitive decline.

Stage six is also part of mid-stage dementia and involves severe cognitive decline. 

Late-stage dementia includes stage seven, which is characterized by very severe cognitive decline. 

3.   What are the first signs of dementia?

Early signs of dementia include problems remembering things (particularly recent events), increased confusion, and difficulty concentrating. 

4.   Can dementia kill you?

Ultimately, dementia is a terminal disease, similar to cancer, that physically kills the patients who suffer from it.

Some experts have defined dementia as a fatal brain failure and not merely a mental ailment that comes along with old age. 

5.   Do people with dementia know they have it?

As dementia progresses, people become more and more confused, and therefore less aware that they have the disease.

They also sometimes get frustrated or angry when they can’t make sense of things around them or get something wrong.

Patients suffering from dementia may become angry or upset very easily and not be able to articulate why they are feeling that way. 

6.   What foods can cause dementia?

Foods that can impair memory include white breads, pasta, processed meats and cheeses, all of which are staples in the American diet. 

7.   What causes dementia?

There are several speculations as to why dementia develops.

These include autoimmune disease, unusual presentations of more common neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, prion diseases (which are rare forms of neurodegenerative disease), infections, and decreased blood flow to the brain. 

8.   Can dementia be cured?

Currently, there are no approved treatments that cure dementia.

The most severe forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, are usually treated with medications that temporarily improve symptoms.

Unfortunately, there are no cures or treatment that slow or stop progression of the disease altogether. 

9.   What is the number one food that fights dementia?

There is no single food that has been found to significantly fight dementia more than others.

Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine all are considered “brain healthy” food groups. 

10. Would I know if I had dementia?

If you were suffering from vascular dementia, you may be aware that you are experiencing the symptoms, which are difficulties problem solving, slower thinking, and decreased organization and ability to focus. 

In this blog article, you learned about the signs and symptoms of dementia, risk factors, and current available treatments. 

Want to learn more about dementia? Try these books!

When Reasoning No Longer Works: A Practical Guide for Caregivers Dealing with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Care

This book is a must-have for caregivers of family members or close friends with dementia.

It explains what dementia does to the brain, how it is diagnosed, and how to best deal with its effects.

Certain important aspects of caregiving are explained in great detail such as how to deal with aggressive or disruptive behaviors, ways to diminish wandering, and when to look for outside help. 

Dementia Types, Risk Factors, & Symptoms (2019 edition): Alzheimer’s disease | Vascular | Lewy Body | Frontotemporal | Huntington’s | Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus | Wernicke Korsakoff Dementias

This book explains everything you need to know about the different types of dementia.

It translates current scientific research into everyday language so anyone who is dealing with dementia or a loved one with dementia can read this and be as informed as possible. 

Have more questions or comments about dementia? Post below!

ReferencesDementia.Mayo Clinic. April 19th, 2019.

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