Dementia: 50 million have it, but what is it?
Dementia is a reduction in mental ability that affects a senior’s day-to-day life. It might surprise you to learn dementia itself is not a specific disease—instead, it’s a set of symptoms related to thinking and memory skills, behavior, and personality. The chances of dementia may increase with age but let’s be clear, this is not normal.
There are some causes of dementia that follow injuries and brain cell degeneration. Symptoms and signs are a significant factor in diagnosing someone sooner. Yet, there is no real test to determine if a person has dementia or not. Luckily, there are several ways to help prevent, avoid, and delay the onset of dementia.
Intrigued? Well then, let’s get started.
The Causes of Dementia
Dementia can follow any damage to areas of the brain that can make it harder for brain cells to communicate with each other. A common cause of dementia is the lack of blood flow to the brain. This can damage nerve cells in parts of the brain that are responsible for memory and bodily functions. When these nerve cells are damaged, it makes it harder for the cells to send signals
Also, traumatic brain injuries like concussions, central nervous system infections, fluid buildup in the brain, or lifestyle factors like drug and alcohol use are contributing factors.
Are There Symptoms & Signs?
Yes. There are multiple signs and symptoms associated with dementia, and they can help diagnose people with it or with a form of brain disease.
When someone forgets things, what was recently learned, or names of loved ones can be a sign. Another common sign of memory loss is if a senior repeatedly asks about the same information repeatedly. Some notice their loved ones with memory problems needing more help remembering activities they used to handle on their own.
A Trouble with Problem-Solving & Planning
Certain types of dementia can affect things like follow through with a plan. Other times, it can change how a person works with numbers and budgeting. Even following simple recipes or concentrating can be difficult.
Difficulty with Familiar Tasks
One very noticeable symptom can be trouble with everyday tasks. Things like forgetting how to drive, the rules to a favorite game, directions to a familiar place, or a usual recipe. In more serious cases, someone could forget how to brush their teeth or shave.
Losing Track of Time & Place
A person might experience issues remembering important dates, times or even seasons. Someone with dementia could also lose track of where they are, where they may be going, or how they got where there.
While vision loss due to cataracts is a normal part of aging, dementia can affect vision in different ways. Challenges with reading, judging distances, and differentiating colors can be an effect of having dementia.
Problems with speaking and writing can occur. People can mix up their words sometimes or have trouble speaking. But, when someone starts having trouble starting and holding conversations, or even calling familiar things by the wrong name can be a sign.
People sometimes misplace things. It’s common. But when someone leaves items in unfamiliar places like keys in the fridge or phones in the washing machine, this is not normal. Another telltale sign is when a senior has trouble retracing their steps or even starts accusing others of stealing from them.
Trouble with Judgement
One big problem is judgment and decision-making. This relates to money management like paying more for certain things or buying items they don’t need. In more advanced stages seniors can lose a sense of public etiquette like not dressing inappropriately for the weather. It can also cause people to lose interest in self-care, grooming, or eating right.
Social & Professional Withdrawal
A common occurrence is that people feel less social. It can reduce their interest in favorite activities and hobbies or give them trouble keeping up with friends and family. Even favorite sports teams and players can be less satisfying to follow or keep up with. If there is a change in social behavior (i.e., someone used to be social but is now isolating themselves), this could be a sign that someone has dementia.
Mood & Personality Changes
People living with a form of dementia can find themselves feeling more confused, depressed, anxious, or suspicious than normal. They can also find themselves outside their comfort zone or more easily upset than in the past.
How is Dementia Diagnosed & Treated?
There isn’t a single test to diagnosis dementia. Diagnosing dementia is difficult and, to make it even worse, it can be associated with many brain diseases. To diagnose people with dementia, doctors must consider several things. One a medical history of memory loss or problems. Two, they could perform a physical exam. Three, doctors can perform lab tests. And finally, they can take notes of the signs and symptoms described above.
Sometimes, a doctor will diagnose someone with dementia without a specific type. In other cases, they will diagnose someone with a kind of brain disease or a root cause.
Although many types of dementia are permanent, progressive, and untreatable, some symptoms could improve with treatment. These include:
- side-effects from medication
- vitamin deficiencies
- thyroid issues
- drinking too much alcohol
This is not an exhaustive list, however. There are other symptoms associated with dementia are treatable.
Alzheimer’s is the Number 1 form of Dementia in the World
Although Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, many other forms of brain diseases exist underneath its umbrella. These types of dementia include:
Alzheimer’s Disease – The most common form totaling 60%-80% of cases, caused by a buildup of plaques and twisted neuron connections in the brain
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease – A rare brain disease believed to be caused by abnormal cellular proteins
Parkinson’s Disease – A set of symptoms including tremors, stiffness, slow movements, difficulty walking, and others
Huntington’s Disease – A genetic disorder causing neuron death
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – Caused by repeated traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) – A disease causing loss of balance, trouble walking, uncontrollable eye movement, and other dementia-related symptoms
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NHP) – A rare disorder believed to be caused by the buildup of fluid in the brain
Argyrophilic Grain Disease – A reasonably common late-onset
Mixed Dementia – When two or more single types of dementia are combined
Avoiding and Preventing Dementia
There are things you and your loved ones can do to help prevent the onset and progression of dementia.
Keeping your cardiovascular system healthy by exercising regularly to maintain blood flow to the brain can decrease the risk by 50%. Experts say to try and exercise at least 150 minutes. Resistance exercise like lifting weights and balancing exercises like yoga can help maintain a strong healthy brain and coordination to prevent falls.
Eat a nutritious and varied diet. A Mediterranean diet is known to have many nutrients to help slow the onset of dementia. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and fish which is rich in omega-3 fats. Try and stay away from sugary snacks and foods as they can cause health conditions such as diabetes.
Sleep is another major way to prevent the onset of dementia. Many studies show the link between sleep and Alzheimer’s. If someone does not get enough sleep, it could lead to the build-up of plaque in the brain that can cause dementia, like Alzheimer’s. Keep the bedroom for relaxation and shoot for about 8 to 9 hours every night.
Lastly avoid smoking, excessive drinking, and drug use. Engage in social activities with friends, family, and pets and always challenge your brain with puzzles, reading, games, and sports like golf. These things will help prevent and avoid the onset of dementia.
Ultimately, dementia risk factors like genetics and age can’t be avoided, but a healthy, active lifestyle might help delay the onset!