It can be incredibly distressing to suspect that you or a loved one has dementia. However, the more you know about the illness, the more you can do to help it better.
What exactly is dementia?
Memory loss, personality changes, and reduced intellectual skills are all symptoms of dementia, which can be caused by disease or trauma to the brain. These changes are not typical of aging and have a significant influence on daily life, independence, and relationships.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, around 50 million individuals worldwide suffer from dementia, with a new case identified every 3.2 seconds. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent kind of dementia, there are other vascular and mixed dementias to consider.
Communication, learning, remembering, and problem-solving skills will all likely deteriorate as dementia progresses. These transformations might happen fast or slowly over time. The type of dementia and which area of the brain is affected dictate the progression and outcome, which are largely determined by the type of dementia and which area of the brain is affected.
When you accept the prospect of dementia, your perceptions, relationships, and priorities all change. Having symptoms, however, does not have to signal the end of your normal existence. If discovered early enough, several varieties of dementia can be delayed and even reversed.
The first step is to learn how to discern between normal memory loss and dementia symptoms, as well as how to recognize the many varieties of dementia. Regardless of your diagnosis, there are many things you can do to help manage symptoms and live a full and rewarding life for as long as possible.
Dementia signs and symptoms
Many of us endure memory lapses as we become older. Realizing that something you once took for granted is not working as well as it once did can be both upsetting and perplexing. However, not all abnormalities in memory are indicative of dementia, and dementia affects more than just memory. Visual and spatial skills, executive functioning, language, emotions, and personality are all affected by symptoms. In addition to memory loss, you must have impairments in at least one of four areas to meet the diagnostic criteria for dementia.
The following are some of the most common indications and symptoms:
Memory loss is a common problem. Changes in short-term memory, such as forgetting dates and events, requiring more memory aids, and repeating the same questions repeatedly.
Impaired decision-making. Become a victim of fraud, give money away, or struggle to care for a pet.
Problems with abstract reasoning. Having difficulty coming up with new ideas, solving riddles, being creative, and doing daily activities.
Erroneous thinking. Problem-solving, working with arithmetic, managing a checkbook, and following directions or recipes are all areas where you may struggle.
Inappropriate conduct. Improper sexual statements or actions, as well as a loss of inhibitions.
Communication skills are deteriorating. Finding words, following discussions, or following plots can be difficult.
Confusion and disorientation. Getting lost in familiar places, having trouble remembering dates or seasons. Not being able to recognize or be perplexed by familiar faces.
Problems with gait, motor skills, and balance. Increased falls or mishaps are due to a loss of coordination.
Personal hygiene and safety are neglected. Neglecting one’s own hygiene, dressing inappropriately for the weather, and ignoring nourishment are all examples of self-neglect.
Personality evolves over time. Withdrawal from social activities, apathy or listlessness, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, or agitation is all symptoms of depression.
Memory Issues Related to Dementia
Even though it is something we all have to deal with, the inevitable changes that come with age can be both humbling and shocking. While wrinkled skin, losing hair color, and mild, short-term memory loss are all prevalent as we become older, severe and quick memory loss is not. Many people can maintain their mental and physical abilities as they age by being cognitively and physically active and making other healthy lifestyle choices.
Differentiating dementia symptoms from typical aging symptoms can either put your mind at ease or inspire you to take action to halt the onset of symptoms. In general, typical aging-related memory alterations do not have a substantial impact on your capacity to function in daily life. These may include the following:
Slower problem solving and reasoning. Learning speed slows, short-term memory takes longer to function, and reaction time lengthens.
Distractedness is a result of a decrease in attention and concentration. Learning becomes more difficult as a result of all of the disruptions.
Slower recall. More suggestions are needed to awaken the memory.
Dementia has a number of causes.
Although the bulk and speed of a healthy brain decrease with age, this extraordinary organ continues to build important connections throughout life. When connections between neurons are destroyed due to inflammation, disease, or damage, neurons die and dementia develops. While the possibility of losing one’s identity can be terrifying, early action can drastically change the outcome.
Scientists have made significant progress in deciphering the causes of dementia in recent years, but there is still more to learn. While your genes may have a role, it is more likely that a combination of inherited, environmental, and lifestyle variables is also at play.
Dementia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease are examples of medical disorders that gradually destroy brain cells and connections.
Strokes, for example, impair oxygen flow and deprive the brain of essential nutrients. Reducing high blood pressure, managing heart disease, and stopping smoking can all help to prevent more strokes.
Poor nutrition, dehydration, and the use of certain substances, such as drugs and alcohol, are all factors. Insulin resistance, metabolic problems, and vitamin deficiencies can all be treated to minimize or eliminate dementia symptoms.
Brain injuries can occur as a result of a single event or a series of events. Cognitive skills and memory may be affected depending on the location of the brain injury.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and HIV are examples of infections or illnesses that damage the central nervous system. Some diseases, such as liver or renal illness, depression-induced pseudo dementia, and operable brain tumors, can be treated.
Factors that Increase Your Chances of Getting Dementia
Some dementia risk factors are beyond your control. Dementia is more likely to develop as you become older, if you have a family history of dementia, if you have had a brain injury, or if you have Down syndrome. Other lifestyle factors, like your food and level of activity, may, however, be more under your control.
Dementia is caused by a number of factors, including:
Heart disease is a problem. The health of the heart and the brain are inextricably intertwined. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis (artery constriction), heart disease, and stroke can all raise your risk of dementia.
Diabetes. Diabetes that is poorly managed can lead to stroke and heart disease, raising your risk of dementia, including vascular, Alzheimer’s, and mixed dementia.
Smoking. Smoking raises your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, which raises your chances of mental decline and dementia.
Abuse of alcohol. Heavy or binge drinking can raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, such as Korsakoff syndrome, a kind of dementia induced by alcohol misuse.
Mental health has been neglected. Untreated depression, loneliness, social isolation, and a lack of mental stimulation are all factors that can increase the risk of dementia.
Apnea (sleep deprivation). Untreated sleep apnea can cause daytime tiredness, reduced brain function, and an increased risk of dementia later in life if left untreated.
Poor dietary habits. A diet strong in processed foods, bad fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can harm your heart and brain, increasing your chance of diabetes, vascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease, all of which are red flags for dementia.
Lack of physical activity. Sedentary behavior can weaken your immune system, disrupt your sleep, raise your risk of heart disease, and hasten cognitive loss and the beginning of dementia symptoms.
Hearing loss is a common problem. Hearing loss has been linked to a quicker rate of brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. It can also make it more difficult to socialize with friends, which is another dementia risk factor.
Dementia’s different types
All dementias cause cognitive deterioration, which can make daily life difficult. However, in order to improve treatment, it is critical to identify the precise form of dementia. Dementia affects around 50 different disorders, including:
This is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all diagnosed cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The ten warning indicators listed below may suggest that your dementia symptoms are caused by Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Your memory loss is causing you problems in your daily life. You forget new information, forget crucial dates or events, ask for the same information repeatedly, or rely on memory aids or family members more and more.
2. You are having trouble figuring out how to solve problems. You can not stick to a schedule, deal with figures, follow recipes, or keep track of your finances.
3. Having difficulty with daily chores such as driving to a familiar location, remembering game rules, or completing job projects.
4. Being perplexed by the passage of time or the location of an event. You forget about dates, where you are, and how you got there.
5. Losing track of things. Putting items in weird locations, being unable to retrace your steps, and maybe accusing others of stealing are all signs that something is wrong.
6. Having difficulties with spoken or written language. You have trouble following a discussion, you frequently repeat yourself, you struggle to find the perfect word, and you do not always call objects by their proper names.
7. Visual images are tough to comprehend. You may have difficulty reading, judging distances, colors, or contrast, or recognizing yourself in a mirror.
8. Making poor decisions. Your decision-making abilities have deteriorated; you are giving away significant sums of money and paying less attention to personal grooming.
9. Refusing to participate in job or social activities. You are having trouble remembering how to accomplish a work project or a cherished activity, you are having trouble keeping up with sports, and you are withdrawing from social engagements.
10. Displaying mood swings. Developing feelings of befuddlement, depression, suspicion, fear, or anxiety.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease can help people maintain their independence and is the first step toward treatment, management, and living a full life.
Dementia due to vascular disease
Vascular dementia is caused by a series of minor strokes or abnormalities in the blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia is characterized by a fast onset of symptoms, and while it has a significant influence on memory and cognitive function, there are treatments to lessen its severity.
Dementia with a mix of symptoms
This is a disorder that occurs when Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia coexist. The combination of the two types of dementia is most common in people in their late 60s and 70s and is generally accompanied by cardiovascular illness and dementia symptoms that worsen over time.
Dementias that are less common
- Personality, orientation, and behavior are all affected by Pick’s Disease. Pick’s disease is more common in women and affects them at a younger age.
- Exposure to meat tainted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the official term for mad cow disease, is often linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is characterized by fast mental decline and uncontrollable movements.
- Huntington’s disease is a degenerative inherited disease. Huntington’s disease is characterized by an involuntary movement that usually develops in middle age.
- Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects people. Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative central nervous system illness, can lead to dementia in later stages.
- Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease. Hallucinations and fear are common in people with Lewy Body dementia.
It is crucial to get a diagnosis of dementia as soon as possible, especially if your symptoms emerge unexpectedly. Some dementia drugs may be more effective if administered early in the disease’s course. Early intervention may also aid in the control of symptoms and the extension of your quality of life.
There is no single medical test that can be performed to determine whether or not someone has dementia. Your doctor will evaluate your memory issues, changes in thinking, behavior, and function, as well as do medical tests to rule out other conditions and drug combinations that could be causing your symptoms.
While your doctor may be able to diagnose dementia in general, determining the precise form might be difficult. Because many symptoms of dementia are similar, you may need to see a specialized neurologist or psychologist for a complete diagnosis.
Adapting to a diagnosis
For both you and your loved ones, being diagnosed with dementia is a life-changing event. It has the power to turn your life upside down and leave you reeling from a range of conflicting feelings, including shock, rage, and grief, as well as intense sadness and solitude.
While there is no cure for dementia at this time, a diagnosis does not mean your life is ended. For the symptoms, there are therapies available. There are also steps you can take to help reduce the disease’s course and delay the onset of more debilitating symptoms, allowing you to maintain your independence and enjoy a richer, more fulfilling life for longer.
Dementia prevention or slowed progression
Recent research suggests that healthy living practices and mental stimulation can help prevent dementia, delay its start, or decrease the emergence of more debilitating symptoms if you have already been diagnosed. Even if you have a genetic tendency to dementia, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019 indicated that healthy lifestyle modifications can minimize your risk of dementia.
No matter your family history or age, exercising your mind and memory can help you stay mentally sharp, just as physical exercise can help you stay physically fit. The following tactics may be beneficial:
1. Exercise on a regular basis Getting into a regular fitness regimen, which includes both aerobic and weight training, can help to lower your risk of dementia. On most days of the week, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity.
2. Participation in social activities. The more socially active you are, the more you interact with others face-to-face, and the better your memory and cognition will be.
3. Eat a balanced diet. Healthy eating habits for the brain, such as those suggested by the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce inflammation, protect neurons, and improve brain cell communication. Fruit and vegetable consumption on a daily basis, as well as fish consumption on a weekly basis, may assist to reduce your dementia risk.
4. It provides mental stimulation. You may strengthen your cognitive skills, keep intellectually sharp, and delay or avoid dementia symptoms by continuing to learn new things and challenging your brain.
5. Get plenty of rest. Getting enough sleep may aid in the removal of toxins from the brain and the prevention of plaque build-up.
6. Stress reduction. Stress that is not managed has a toll on the brain, diminishing a crucial memory area, impeding nerve cell proliferation, and exacerbating dementia symptoms.
7. Vascular health is important. Controlling your blood pressure, keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels, and quitting smoking can all help your heart and brain.
If you are interested in more articles like this, here’s one about why we don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.