Everything You Should Know About Dementia

More than 4.7 million people in the U.S. aged 65 or more are living with Alzheimer’s disease which is a common type of dementia. Dementia is a blanket term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline such as forgetfulness, which are severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is not clinically diagnosed unless an underlying disease or disorder has been identified. Since dementia is a collective term used to describe various underlying brain disorders, it involves various damages related to memory, impaired judgment, language and thinking. Dementia is progressive which means the symptoms will get worse over time. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common examples of dementia.

The likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, but that doesn’t mean that dementia is a normal part of aging. Light cognitive impairment like poor short-term memory can happen as a normal part of getting old because after we age beyond our 20s, we slowly begin to lose brain cells. This is a common age related cognitive decline and is not characterized as dementia since it doesn’t affect daily activities. These are classed as “mild cognitive impairments".  However if there are two or more different symptoms that are severe enough to impact daily activities, it will be described as Dementia.

Cause of Dementia

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease caused by brain cell death. It is in fact a progressive brain cell death that happens over a period of time. Here are some other things responsible for Dementia:

  • Dementia can be caused by head injury, stroke or a brain tumor among other causes.
  • Prion disease forms a certain type of protein that can cause Dementia.
  • HIV associated Dementia where the virus damages brain cells.
  • There are also some reversible factors that may cause Dementia. Once the underlying factors are treated, the affects of Dementia can be reversed, for example depression, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid abnormalities.

Symptoms of Dementia

Since every person is unique, they will experience Dementia in their own way. Different types of Dementia will affect people differently. Moreover the way people around them respond or how supportive their surroundings are will also play key role in determining how well they are able to live with Dementia. Since people with Dementia have cognitive symptoms – that is – problem with thinking and memory, they will have problems with:

  • Memory – They may often find difficulty in recalling events that took place recently.
  • Planning, organizing and concentrating – They may find it difficult making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks, for example cooking a meal.
  • Language – They may find it difficult choosing the right words during conversation.
  • Visuospatial skills – They may find it difficult judging distance or seeing objects in three dimensions.
  • Orientation – The may often find themselves losing track of the day or date. Sometimes they may become confused about where they are.

Cognitive symptoms of Dementia

  • People suffering with the symptoms of Dementia will often have mood swings. They may become frustrated, anxious, withdrawn, irritable, easily upset or unusually sad.
  • In some specific types of Dementia, the person may experience hallucinations. They may see things that are really not there or simply believe in things that are not true.
  • Dementia is progressive and as disease progresses, the person may exhibit behavior that may seem unusual or out of character, for example repetitive questioning.

Quick facts about Dementia

  • Dementia is caused by brain cell death. Neurodegenerative disease is the most common cause of Dementia.
  • One new case of Dementia is diagnosed every four seconds.
  • Around 47.5 million people around the globe are estimated to be suffering from Dementia. This figure is expected to increase to 75.6 million by 2030.
  • About $604 billion is spent globally on health care systems to treat Dementia.
  • About 58% of the people suffering from Dementia belong to low and middle-income countries.
  • 10 percent of people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 percent of all cases of Dementia.

Types of Dementia

As you already know, dementia is a collective term. There are various factors that can lead to Dementia. Here are some of the most common types of Dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease – This is the most common type of Dementia. This happens when the brain cells are surrounded by an abnormal protein which damages it's internal structure. As a result of this the chemical connection between the brains hemispheres get lost. This also causes some brain cells to die. Common Alzheimer’s disease symptoms that are noticed first are problems associated with day-to-day memory. Other symptoms may include difficulty in finding the right words, decision making, problem solving and perceiving things in three dimensions.

Vascular Dementia – When the oxygen supply to the brain is reduced due to narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, some brain cells may die. This is known as vascular dementia. The symptoms can either appear suddenly due to large stroke or may develop over time through series of small strokes. In this condition people find difficulty in solving problem, concentrating, thinking quickly or planning.

Mixed Dementia – This is the condition when someone faces more than one type of Dementia such as having both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The person may display mixture of symptoms.

Dementia with Lewy bodies – This is caused when tiny abnormal structures are developed inside brain cells. This causes death of certain brain cells. Dementia with Lewy bodies is closely related to Parkinson's disease. They both also share some of the common symptoms, such as difficulty with movement.

Frontotemporal dementia – In this case front and side parts of the brain are damaged over time due to formation of clumps of abnormal proteins inside nerve cells. The person may experience difficulty with fluent speech or may simply forget the meaning of words or objects.

Preventing Dementia

It’s not possible to know the exact reason why a particular person develops Dementia, since it develops over a period of long time. However factors such as high blood pressure, smoking or low blood pressure can contribute to Dementia. There are scores of studies that provide evidence that healthy lifestyle can help reduce risk of Dementia.   Regular physical activities such as cycling, swimming, brisk walking are helpful in preventing Dementia. A healthy balanced diet also plays key role in minimizing the risk of Dementia. Keeping socially and mentally active into later life may also help lower the risk of Dementia.



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