Seeing a loved one with dementia can be horrifying. The parent, sibling, or relative used to remember who you were, but now they don’t. They may have trouble getting around the house, they may mix up names, and they may forget what happened a few minutes ago. It’s tough to watch someone you love struggle during their golden years. These articles talk about the different forms of dementia that people can experience. They include articles about the causes, symptoms, and treatments. You can also read about to help as a caregiver to someone who is struggling with dementia.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
What Is Dementia?
The loss of cognitive functioning, or dementia, is not considered a single disorder or disease. Rather, this neurodegenerative condition is characterized by a conglomeration of symptoms. You might associate dementia and dementia symptoms with memory loss. That is one of the signs; however, there are many other symptoms of dementia.
Dementia impacts how a person functions on a daily basis and severely affects their cognitive functioning, often leading to cognitive decline. It can affect a person’s executive functioning skills, motor function, and cause the person to have personality shifts. A person managing dementia may be moody and engage in unpredictable behavior. They might display strange thinking or act erratically, possibly experiencing visual hallucinations. But these factors also depend on the form of dementia diagnosed.
Memory loss or impairment is one of the most common symptoms of dementia - and the most noted in early diagnosis. A person who has the condition will struggle to remember basic words for objects or the names of people they love. It can be disturbing to the individuals loved ones to see them struggle to recognize those who are close to them as the dementia progresses.
Here are some of the other signs and symptoms that a person with dementia may experience.
Symptoms of Dementia
- Memory loss
- Trouble communicating with others and/or decline in language skills
- Difficulty finding the right words for everyday objects
- Forgetting the names of important people
- The trouble with logical reasoning or problem solving skills
- Difficulty handling complicated tasks or instructions
- Confusion and disorientation
- Emotional or psychological symptoms
- Personality changes
Some of the psychological symptoms of dementia can be difficult to witness for their loved ones and to manage for the person experiencing them. Watching a loved one living with dementia can be extremely painful. They might not remember who you are or the memories and recent events you have shared. Remember that dementia is a condition that affects many people in their later years and in daily life from there on. Just because your loved one does not remember something significant does not mean they do not value these precious moments. You can still treasure the memories you have together.
Signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type of dementia your loved one is experiencing as well. Some may cause sleep disturbances, while others can affect the range in mental decline, or cause severe decline as the dementia progresses. Here is a list of the different types of dementia and ways it can present:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Mixed dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- A symptom of Parkinson’s disease dementia
- Senile dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Dementia is not only limited to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, as its symptoms are found in many other neurological disorders. Before early signs begin to appear, an individual’s family history, medical history, and laboratory tests can help to identify risk factors and the potential of developing dementia. Having blood tests and brain scans conducted can help to catch signs of the different types of dementia and help to diagnose dementia earlier.
Causes of Dementia
One of the most common contributors to dementia is Alzheimer's disease and, in people over 65, the most likely cause. The strongest known risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s disease is family history. Other risk factors include age, genetics, head injury, and aging. While Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure, there are a few therapeutic interventions that can slow the progression of the illness.
Alzheimer’s disease is not a rare brain disorder. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 6 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease, Thus,1 in 9 people aged 65 and older is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. There is also a known brain to heart health link, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of the condition. This neurodegenerative condition occurs when blood vessels in the brain become damaged, cutting off blood flow and oxygen supply. This damage can be caused by a brain injury or stroke. While it occurs most frequently in older adults and the elderly population, vascular dementia can happen to younger people as well. Risk factors that can increase likelihood of developing this form of dementia include smoking, high blood pressure, and a lack of exercise and a healthy diet.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, vascular dementia is also linked with Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia, with between 5 and 10% of people diagnosed with vascular dementia alone. However, it is more common for this type of dementia to be diagnosed as mixed dementia.
Dementia and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are linked. Head injuries can contribute to or cause people to develop dementia. Extensive research has been conducted on the link between dementia and TBI, and there is a correlation between the two conditions. People who have had a traumatic brain injury are at severe risk for developing early onset Alzheimer's disease or another condition that has dementia as a symptom.
Treatable Conditions That Cause Dementia
Immune Disorders and Infections
Fevers caused by brain infections and immune disorders can cause dementia-like signs and mild cognitive impairment. When your body is trying to fight disease, it might react by creating these symptoms. For example, multiple sclerosis is an illness where the body's immune system attacks nerve cells. People with MS sometimes experience symptoms that resemble dementia and dementia symptoms.
Metabolic Issues and Endocrine Problems
Nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin B deficiency, may contribute to an increased risk for dementia. For example, when an individual does not get enough thiamine (vitamin B-1), they may experience dementia-like signs and symptoms. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are commonly deficient in B-1. People who have difficulty with vitamin B-12 absorption or who are deficient may develop symptoms that resemble common symptoms of dementia. They may also undergo severe personality changes.
Whether you are living with dementia or know a loved one has the condition, talking to a licensed mental health counselor can help. Experiencing or watching a loved one struggle with their cognitive abilities and health conditions associated with dementia can be difficult. Expressing your feelings and reaching for the support of a professional can encourage you and give you the tools you need to manage.
Online counseling is an excellent option to explore, especially due to its convenience and accessibility. Many online providers specialize in dementia and related conditions. Treating a loved one with dementia can be complicated. Talking to an online counselor can teach you ways to communicate with them. Patience is critical and remember to engage in self-care. You most likely will be unable to support your loved one if you do not help yourself first. Through counseling, you can also learn ways to help support your loved one and enjoy the time you have with them.