Here’s What you Need to Know About Dementia
It’s important to understand that dementia and dementia care is not a single disease itself but an umbrella term that includes two or more symptoms that are severe enough to affect daily activities. These symptoms can be in the form of cognitive impairment, memory problems, movement disorders, personality changes and loss of communication.
An estimated 47.5 million people suffer from dementia worldwide. In addition, one new person is diagnosed with dementia every four seconds, and these staggering numbers seem to be growing every year.
In this guide we’ll discuss in detail the causes, symptoms and treatments of dementia so that you’ll be better equipped to make positive lifestyle choices to promote long-term brain health in yourself and possibly encourage a healthier lifestyle for those around you.
One thing is for certain, while dementia commonly affects people in their later years, it is not a normal part of the aging process.
A recent study done in 2017 by the World Health Organization noted that an estimated 10 million new people are being diagnosed with Dementia every year.
So, what seems to be the cause of these high numbers? Well it’s not quite as simple as you think, but let’s dive into the research and discover some causes, symptoms, treatments and prevention methods so that you and your family are better equipped to prevent and handle this degenerative disease.
Cognitive Therapeutics – A Groundbreaking Approach to Dementia Care
At Home Care Assistance, we are committed to improving the lives of all our clients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. That’s why we spent two years developing the Cognitive Therapeutics Method, a groundbreaking approach to Alzheimer’s care for the home environment. Studies at the National Institute of Health have shown the effectiveness of in-home interventions to dementia, far and ahead of any other treatment option available.
Our team is trained to deliver these interventions in the home environment, working with our clients a few times per week or every day. Over time, our interventions help enhance mental acuity as well as delay onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Find out if Cognitive Therapeutics is right for your loved one.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia is caused by significant brain cell death and/or neurodegenerative disease. And while brain cell death is a natural part of aging, dementia related symptoms are not.
There are a variety of different things that can increase the rate at which your brain cells degenerate including lifestyle factors like:
- Lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle
- Drug Use
- Concussions and traumatic brain injuries
- Chronic and acute diseases
- Vitamin deficiencies (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome)
Another leading cause of dementia and dementia related symptoms is damage to blood vessels in the brain otherwise known as cerebrovascular damage. This narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in the brain restricts blood flow putting you at risk for stroke, heart disease, cell death and neurodegeneration.
Certain types of bacteria, virus and parasites can also destroy brain cells and dementia can result in some cases. It’s especially important for elderly people to take precaution by washing their hands and keeping their living environment clean to prevent from getting sick as their immune systems become significantly weaker as they age.
Chemical imbalances or toxins in the body can contribute to dementia as well. These toxins can come in the form of air pollution, water contamination, drug related toxins and even metabolic related disease.
Given that many of the causes of dementia can be avoided we should all aim to live a healthy, drug-free lifestyle with adequate exercise and a diet full of natural foods.
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Is Dementia Hereditary?
Many people with dementia and those who have family members with dementia are often concerned whether or not this neurodegenerative condition is hereditary.
While there isn’t a clearly defined consensus, the short answer is no. However this can depend on the specific case and cause of dementia. Some “rare” causes of dementia are clearly inherited, for example Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease is an “autosomal dominant” disease which means that if you inherit one “faulty copy” of the gene that you will eventually get the disease if you live long enough. It does not skip a generation.
In cases of Alzheimer’s disease on the other hand, it is not passed down in a hereditary manner in the vast majority of cases (about 99%). The most common risk factor for Alzheimer’s is old age (70’s-80’s) There are also a variety of lifestyle factors which contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s which can be avoided if one follows a healthy lifestyle.
Types of Dementia
There are several types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by “plaques” between the dying cells in the brain and “tangles” within the cells. People with Alzheimer’s disease have progressively fewer nerve cells and connections in their brain over time and the tissue begins to shrink as well.
Parkinson’s disease is another common form of dementia. Parkinson’s is usually marked by the presence of Lewy bodies which are abnormal aggregates of protein that are created within nerve cells during Parkinson’s disease. While Parkinson’s is usually considered to be a disorder of movement, people with Parkinson’s usually develop other types of dementia symptoms as well.
Huntington’s disease is typically characterized by specific types of uncontrolled movements but also includes dementia related symptoms.
Other disorders that can lead to symptoms of dementia include:
- Frontotemporal dementia or Pick’s disease
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus (when excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain)
- Posterior cortical atrophy
- Down syndrome (increases the likelihood of early-onset Alzheimer’s)
Signs of Dementia
There are a variety of signs and symptoms that someone with dementia may start displaying. It’s important that family members, caregivers and health workers be aware and alert to these changes in personality and behavior which can help detect early signs of dementia before things get worse.
Possible Signs of dementia include:
- Memory loss – Forgetting things from a few moments ago or an inability to remember simple or important things from the past.
- Difficulty with language or communication – Using the wrong words, inability to complete sentences, slurred or improper speech.
- Disorientation or confusion – Forgetting where they are, lack of direction, forgetting street names.
- Problems with critical or abstract thinking – Inability to manage finances or follow along with stories.
- Misplacing items – Common things like keys, wallet, phone, etc.
- Personality or mood changes – Changes in personality that strike sudden fear, suspiciousness, irritability, confusion etc.
- Loss of motivation or initiative – Less interest in normal day-to-day activities or normal patterns of behavior such as eating, showering, etc.
Depending on the age of patients and the severity of their stage, all of these symptoms can present in varying degrees of intensity.
Dementia Diagnosis and Treatment
When it comes to diagnosing and treating dementia and its related symptoms, there are a variety of strategies that can be implemented. The first step in testing and diagnosing dementia related symptoms involves performing some basic cognitive tests. There are about ten questions that have been established in 1983 called the Six Item Cognitive Impairment Test to detect dementia. This test was last updated by the British GP, Dr. Patrick Brooke.
Five examples of these six questions include:
- Say the months of the year in reverse
- What is the year?
- What is the month?
- Count back from twenty to one
- Count the months of the year in reverse order
- Tell me a name and address you received earlier
Each correct answer gets scored with zero to four points. If one scores more than 7 points then it is suggested that they have some sort of cognitive impairment and should seek further evaluation.
The next set of tests for diagnosis includes assessing someone close to the patient. This second round of testing asks four to six questions about common observations like whether the patient has become less able to remember a recent set of events or conversations or has been struggling to communicate or whether they've been requiring extra help with common tasks that they didn’t have trouble with before.
The next round of testing may include clinical tests related to memory loss, CT brain scans and blood tests to determine the cause of the dementia related symptoms.
Because dementia is primarily caused by brain cell death, there are currently no known cure.
At this point, management of the various disorders is the primary focus so that patients suffering from dementia can be provided proper care.
Certain symptoms of dementia can be managed by various types of treatments like:
- Brain stimulation and training
- Diet rich with healthy fats (coconut and MCT oils, fish oils, etc) Mediterranean diet
- Pharmaceutical drugs (Donepezil, Alantamine, Rivastigmine, Tacrine, Namenda)
Prevention of Dementia
Positive lifestyle choices are the most important long term factor when it comes to preventing dementia related symptoms. Here are a list of key lifestyle choices to consider:
- Reduce drug and alcohol use
- Eliminate cigarettes
- Exercise More
- Reduce unnecessary sugars, carbs and junk foods
- Learn more and often
- Practice new things to create new neural connections
- Avoid the risk of catching disease
- Reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury
While dementia is a debilitating neurodegenerative condition, the chances of getting it can be significantly minimized by following a healthy lifestyle. For those who have family members with dementia, we always recommend employing holistic positive lifestyle techniques to help manage and cope with the situation.
Let us know in the comments below about your experience with family members who have dementia and what strategies you implement to help manage the relationship.