Dementia is a syndrome or a group of symptoms characterized by a great and gradual decline in a person’s cognitive abilities. Compared to the normal changes in brain function brought about by aging, dementia can cause a variety of symptoms like confusion and memory loss that can interfere with a person’s day to day life. Learn more about the different types of dementia and key symptoms and causes.
What is Dementia?
The World Health Organization estimates that 50 million people all over the world suffer from dementia, with 10 million new cases emerging annually.
The term “dementia” refers to a group of conditions that primarily affect a person’s cognitive abilities like the way they think, speak, feel, and behave. A person suffering from dementia will also experience moderate to a severe decline in their memory, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and attention.
Types of Dementia
Most types of dementia are chronic, meaning that it can progress over a period of time. Some types of dementia include:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, making up 60%-70% of the total number of dementia cases. This disease is a degenerative brain disease that initially affects a person’s ability to retain new information.
Impaired brain function caused by decreased blood flow to the brain (due to a stroke or other cardiovascular health problems) is usually referred to as vascular dementia. This type of dementia is the second most common form, next to Alzheimer’s disease.
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
Named after the neurologist Frederich H. Lewy, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is a form of dementia caused by an accumulation of microscopic brain deposits called “lewy bodies.” This form of dementia is the third most common form of dementia.
Frontotemporal dementia is a less common form of dementia that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
Mixed Dementia is a form of dementia where a person’s brain simultaneously exhibits a combination of abnormalities from Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or LBD.
It’s important to note that most forms of dementia are often irreversible. Symptoms usually become worse over time.
Symptoms of Dementia
The signs and symptoms of dementia can differ from person to person. Symptoms can vary depending on a number of factors like the amount of damage to the brain, which parts of the brain are affected, and the person’s behavior before the onset of dementia.
The World Health Organization categorizes dementia symptoms into three groups namely:
- Early Stage: Symptoms in the early stage of dementia are often subtle, and easy to overlook. This includes being forgetful, losing one’s sense of time, and suddenly being unfamiliar with places one frequents.
- Middle Stage: Middle stage symptoms of dementia can include forgetting people’s names, forgetting answers to questions that one recently asked, difficulty with communicating, among many others. During this stage, symptoms become more apparent.
- Late Stage: A person with dementia who is showing late-stage symptoms are usually those who can no longer take care of themselves. Late-stage dementia symptoms can include difficulty with walking or taking care of one’s self, being completely unaware of where they are or what day it is, and etc.
It’s important to note that a person suffering from dementia can also exhibit psychological symptoms like extreme behavioral changes that usually include paranoia, hallucinations, and aggression.
Risk Factors of Dementia
Some risk factors or individual characteristics that make a person prone to having the disease can be changed (modifiable risk factors), while some risk factors like age, are things that can’t be avoided. Risk factors of dementia include:
- Age: People who are older are more at risk of dementia.
- Family history or genes: Research has shown that people with Down’s Syndrome are more at risk of developing dementia later on in their lives.
- Cigarette smoking or alcohol: Smoking and alcohol intake is known to increase a person’s risk of vascular diseases, which can be a cause for the development of dementia.
- Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the arteries, can put a person at greater risk of decreased blood flow to the brain which can cause vascular dementia.
Treatment for Dementia
Currently, there is still no cure for dementia. However, medications have been designed to lessen the severity of symptoms caused by dementia. Before deciding on a course of action for treatment, your doctor will perform a number of tests that can measure your cognitive abilities. They may also ask a close friend or loved one about any symptoms you’ve experienced.
Dementia treatment is usually done through “palliative care.” This type of treatment is made for those suffering from a serious condition like dementia. However, palliative care is not designed to cure illnesses like dementia, but rather improve the quality of life of the patient, their loved ones, or caretakers.
Palliative care can involve counseling, medications that boost mood or behavior, or even actions that make the patient feel empowered or independent.
Considering that there is no exact cure for dementia, the best thing you can do is to take the necessary actions to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Some simple ways you can prevent dementia are:
- Quit smoking and drinking. These are both harmful lifestyle habits that put you at risk for many diseases.
- Take extra precaution in avoiding injuries that can cause major damage to your head.
- Try challenging yourself with activities or hobbies that can encourage you to think or use your problem-solving skills.
- Make sure to get enough exercise, and try tagging a friend along. Social interaction may delay the onset of dementia symptoms.
Dementia is an umbrella term for conditions affecting a person’s healthy brain function. Symptoms caused by dementia are usually those unrelated, or more severe to age-related changes in behavior or cognitive abilities.
Learn more about Dementia here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.