Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a decline in memory or brain function that impacts an individual's daily life. This is different from the normal decrease in short-term memory most people experience as they age. Dementia is caused by changes in the brain which impact cognitive function, and it can be associated with a number of types of dementia many of us are familiar with such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease.
There are many variables associated with dementia symptoms and there isn't a consistent pattern to the way individuals are impacted by dementia. A person is impacted by their condition in different ways at each stage of the disease. In order to be diagnosed with a type of dementia, the patient should go through neurological evaluations and cognitive testing. This will help doctors determine the rate of cognitive decline and possible therapy for the individual.
Common symptoms associated with dementia are:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: 4th Edition establishes criteria for diagnosing dementia as Alzheimer Disease, vascular and some of the less common types associated with trauma, Parkinson's disease and other more general medical disorders. The complex nature of each type of dementia supports a wide variety of testing to be completed before a diagnosis can be made. Read More About The Symptoms Of Dementia
Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, with over 10% of Americans aged 65 and older suffering from the affliction. This percentage rises to over 33% in Americans aged 85 or older, indicating the increasing risk of developing dementia associated with aging. Alzheimer's disease is estimated to make up 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. It is a progressive disorder that destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and impaired cognitive abilities, such as thinking skills, judgment, and reasoning. Although scientists have not yet found a cure for the disorder, there are multiple treatments available that have been shown to slow the worsening of symptoms and improve quality of life for both the patient and his or her loved ones.
Vascular Dementia develops from reduced blood flow to the brain which deprives the brain of needed nutrients and oxygen, causing a decline in thinking and cognitive skills. Like most forms of dementia, there is currently no cure for vascular dementia. Studies show that a heart-healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on the progression of symptoms.
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is caused by a build up of proteins, known as lewy bodies, in areas of the brain that affect both thinking and motor control. LBD is a brain disorder that negatively impairs cognitive functions as well as movement. There is no known cure to repair or halt the progression of lewy body dementia; however, certain types of therapy and other treatments have been shown to successfully manage a patient's symptoms.
Parkinson's Disease is a nervous system disorder caused by destroyed neurons in the brain. Parkinson's progressively impairs movement and speech functions. The disease does not have a cure, but most symptoms associated with the disorder can be treated. An estimated 50% to 80% of patients with Parkinson's disease will in time develop mild dementia, while approximately 20% will develop severe dementia.
Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is a group of uncommon disorders that are characterized by their impact to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These disorders can have an impact on personality, behavior, motor function, and communication. Those diagnosed with FTD disorders are often younger than those with other types of dementia, and they can be as young as 40. This disorder is often misdiagnosed as a psychological disorder because of the drastic changes in behavior and personality associated with the degeneration of the frontal lobes.
Huntington's Disease is a genetic disorder characterized by the progressive degeneration of nerve cells which regulate mood, movement, and cognitive skills. It is most commonly associated with involuntary movements, and those are often one of the first symptoms individuals with the disease will experience. Huntington's can also have a psychological impact noted by changes in mood, depression, and increased anxiety. About 30,000 people in the United States have Huntington's disease. To date, there is no known cure so the management of symptoms is the primary focus of treatment.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a rare brain disorder characterized by the introduction and spread of incorrectly folded proteins throughout the body. These abnormal proteins spread to the brain and cause degeneration of brain capacity, which ultimately leads to death. Scientists are still trying to understand this disease and are seeking treatment options for those that are diagnosed, but the rapid spread of abnormal proteins and the rarity of the disease slow their progress.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a type of dementia caused by a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain. This fluid buildup leads ventricles to enlarge and eventually damages surrounding brain tissue, leading to cognitive impairment and symptoms like loss of bladder control and difficulty walking.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome occurs due to severe thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiencies caused by alcohol abuse. Without thiamine, the brain cannot adequately create enough energy to sustain itself, causing severe brain damage and memory loss. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a two-stage brain disorder where Karsakoff syndrome develops due to permanent brain damage as a result of Wernicke encephalopathy.
Dementia is most commonly caused by neurodegenerative disease or the death and damage of cells and neurons in the brain. Dementia symptoms tend to vary because different areas of the brain can be affected by neurodegenerative disease. Dementia may also be caused by stroke, repeated traumatic head injury, or brain tumors. Only 5% of dementia cases are caused by other diseases, such as HIV infection, progressive supra-nuclear palsy, or alcohol-related brain damage. These other diseases usually represent incidences of dementia in younger individuals.
Read More About Causes of Dementia
Unfortunately most dementia related conditions cannot be cured. For most types of dementia, there is no way to slow or reverse cognitive impairment. There are medications and alternative treatments that are used to improve and alleviate symptoms. Treatments and medication will depend heavily on the specific dementia condition in question.
Current research suggests that exercise, diet, smoking, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, diabetes, and mild cognitive impairment may all factor into the development of dementia. Making healthy lifestyle choices, especially during middle age, may be integral to dementia prevention.
Preventative measures include:
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