Common Signs And Causes Of Dementia That Everyone Should Know About
Dementia can be defined as a loss of intellectual abilities. For a dementia diagnosis, there must usually be an impairment in at least two areas, such as memory, language and communication skills, visual perception, and focus. Although dementia is typically progressive and irreversible, early detection and treatment can help patients manage their symptoms and maintain their quality of life longer. Risk factors can involve age, gender, genetics, cardiovascular health, and lifestyle factors. Therapy can be an important part of treatment, both for those with dementia and their caregivers.
Types of dementia
There can be many types of dementia. Alzheimer's disease tends to be the most common cause of dementia and is responsible for about 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Other types of dementia can include the following:
Vascular Dementia: Caused by a stroke blocking a brain artery or other issues leading to impaired blood flow to the brain
Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB): Caused by abnormal deposits that can damage the brain gradually
Mixed Dementia: When two or more types of dementia are present simultaneously
Parkinson's Disease: A neurodegenerative disease in which the brain’s nerve cells break down or die
Frontotemporal Dementia: A rare disorder that can affect areas of the brain responsible for language, personality, and behavior
Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease: A form of Alzheimer's disease that appears before the age of 65, often during middle age, and can be linked to a family history of genetic mutations
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: A very rare brain disorder that typically progresses quicker than other forms of dementia
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: Caused by the abnormal build-up of cerebral spinal fluid, also known as Hakim's syndrome
Huntington's Disease: A hereditary form of dementia characterized by physical, emotional, and mental symptoms, also known as Huntington's chorea
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: A brain disorder caused by a vitamin B-1 (thiamine) deficiency
Each type of dementia is typically related to different causes, symptoms, and changes that can happen in the brain. Other health conditions that may cause dementia or similar symptoms can include argyrophilic grain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and HIV-associated dementia.
Different health factors may worsen or increase the risk of dementia or dementia-like conditions. High blood pressure, thyroid problems, and Down syndrome may be more likely to develop dementia. In addition, factors like low blood sugar levels may cause dementia-like conditions, temporarily mimicking the symptoms of dementia. For this reason, it can be key to manage one’s own health to potentially reduce the risk or severity of specific disease-related dementia symptoms.
Early symptoms and signs of dementia
Dementia affects all facets of life. Many signs of dementia may be pinpointed, depending on the cause of dementia and how far it has progressed. In general, at least two of these important mental functions must be significantly affected to receive a diagnosis of dementia:
Communication and language
Ability to focus and pay attention
Reasoning and judgment
Some of the early warning signs of dementia are listed below:
Short-term memory loss
Decreased or poor judgment
Difficulty planning and problem-solving
Changes in mood and personality
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Confusing time and place
Often forgetting to pay monthly bills
Trouble with visual and spatial abilities
Written or verbal speech difficulties
Impaired decision making
Misplacing things and having trouble retracing steps
Repeatedly asking for assistance from family members
Withdrawing from work and social activities
Some memory loss can be normal, especially as we age. Almost everyone might forget what day of the week it is occasionally or walk into a room forgetting why they entered it. The key may be being able to distinguish when memory loss becomes abnormal, such as when a loved one starts to forget what year it is or has trouble getting home via a route they are very familiar with.
If you are worried that you or someone you know might be developing dementia, it can be crucial to seek medical attention. Your doctor can give you a thorough examination to determine whether you have dementia and rule out other treatable causes of memory loss, like depression, substance use, and vitamin deficiency.
There usually aren't any straightforward tests that you can take to see if you have dementia. Your doctor may instead look at your medical history and mental status, along with performing various examinations (physical and neurological) and tests (blood tests and brain scans) to form a conclusion.
Causes of dementia
There may be as many causes of dementia as there are types of dementia. Although some causes of dementia may be out of your control, like age and genetics, other risk factors can be managed with a healthy lifestyle.
In general, dementia is caused by damaged brain cells. This damage can make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with one another, potentially impacting brain function. Different types of dementia can involve brain cell damage to specific brain regions. In time, many causes of brain cell damage can increase dementia risk.
A few of the risk factors for dementia, including controllable and uncontrollable risk factors, can include the following:
- Age: The older you are, the higher your risk of being diagnosed with dementia may be
- Genetics: Dementia can be inherited; some genes can increase our risk, while some rarer genes can cause dementia
- Gender: A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, tends to be more common in women
- Poor cardiovascular health: Damage to blood vessels can deprive brain cells of food and oxygen, potentially making a person twice as likely to develop dementia
- Lifestyle factors: Things like smoking, weight problems, lack of exercise, and a poor diet can contribute to a person's risk of developing dementia
Dementia outlook and treatment
The average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with dementia is typically four and a half years, although some individuals may live longer, depending on their age and how healthy they were when the diagnosis was made.
There are generally seven stages of dementia, ranging from Stage 1 (No Cognitive Decline) to Stage 7 (Very Severe Cognitive Decline). These stages can help doctors determine the best course of treatment.
As of right now, dementia may not be cured, but there are often treatments available to help patients manage and slow down their symptoms. Some of these treatments can include prescription medications to manage the symptoms of dementia, as well as medications to manage behavioral aspects of dementia, like anxiety and sleeplessness. Never start or stop any medication without consulting your doctor.
Therapy can also be helpful for those living with dementia. Coping with the symptoms and changes that can come with a dementia diagnosis can be difficult, but talking with a licensed mental health professional is often beneficial.
Different types of therapy, like crisis intervention, family therapy, support groups, and individual therapy, can be used, depending on the person's individual needs and situation.
Benefits of online therapy
If you recently learned that you or a loved one has dementia, online therapy services can be a great resource for affordable professional support during hard times. Even though it can be difficult to ask for help, both those with dementia and their caregivers deserve available emotional support as they manage the challenges of dementia and come to terms with the diagnosis.
Effectiveness of online therapy
In general, online therapy can be just as effective as in-office therapy. One 2023 study noted that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy could effectively treat depression symptoms in individuals living with chronic conditions like dementia.
What are the ten warning signs of dementia?
Warning signs of dementia often affect people differently. For example, one person may exhibit every sign while another only shows a few. Variations in timing and severity can also make it challenging to identify dementia symptoms in some people.
Symptoms can vary depending on dementia type, too— for example, Lewy body dementia (LBD) has marked movement symptoms along with the more typical signs of dementia.
There are, however, some common symptoms to look for if you suspect that you or someone you know has dementia:
Persistent memory problems.
Most people occasionally forget appointments or someone’s name they’ve only met once before. However, persistent memory lapses can be a cause for concern.
Difficulty executing everyday tasks.
It may be a sign of dementia when an individual becomes so distracted that tasks like paying bills, reading directions, or following a recipe become too challenging.
Telling the same story or asking the same question repeatedly is a potential sign of dementia.
People with dementia may forget simple words or have trouble finding the right word to label or describe something. They can have trouble holding conversations, keeping a train of thought, or understanding others.
Frequently misplacing things.
While it’s normal for most to forget where you’ve put your keys or wallet occasionally, someone with dementia may do it more frequently or are unable to remember why they needed the item in the first place.
Trouble judging direction or distance.
People with dementia may get lost while driving, taking a walk, or any other activity requiring spatial and visual acuity.
Disorientation about time and location.
Some people with dementia may think they’re in another place or time. They may forget where they are or can’t recall how they got there.
Increased irritability, sadness, or fearfulness may be noteworthy, particularly if they’re associated with mood swings. Some people with dementia may become suspicious or uncharacteristically nervous around others. Others may become uncharacteristically gregarious and outgoing.
Increased apathy or decreased interest in things once enjoyed could be cause for concern.
Look for odd or troubling behaviors like increased impulsivity or neglecting personal hygiene. People with dementia may also have poor judgment in making decisions, such as dressing appropriately for the weather or bedtime.
It’s important to note that other (sometimes serious) conditions may exhibit dementia-like symptoms, for example, head trauma, certain types of cancer, serious infections, and heart and lung disorders.
What are the five early signs of dementia?
It can be challenging to recognize the earlier signs of progressive dementias, as many people assume they’re due to regular brain changes associated with the aging process. Symptoms often develop subtly and, as a result, go unnoticed until they’re more severe. Early diagnosis and early treatment are vital for managing symptoms and slowing the process of dementia.
Five early symptoms of dementia include:
- Frequent memory problems.
- Lessened ability to concentrate, increased confusion.
- Notable changes in behavior or personality.
- Apathy, disengagement, depression.
- Increased difficulty doing routine, everyday tasks.
At what age does dementia usually start?
The typical age for the onset of dementia in the U.S. is 83.7 years.
What is typically the most obvious early symptom of dementia?
While the most apparent sign of dementia varies from individual to individual, the Alzheimer’s Society cites increasing memory loss as the most notable early symptom in early Alzheimer’s disease.
What is the 5-word test?
The five-word test (5WT) is a memory test designed to identify signs of early-onset dementia. During the test, the administrator will read a list of five simple words and then ask the test-taker to repeat them. The physician then engages them in a brief distraction exercise such as counting backward or having a simple conversation. After the exercise, the participant is asked to recall the five words.
What is the 3-word memory test?
Like the five-word test, this test (commonly called the “mini-cog”) is designed to detect signs of dementia memory loss. Also, like the 5WT, it begins with the administrator reading a list of (three) common words to the participant. After the three words are read, the participant is asked to draw a clock showing a specific time. When the drawing is completed, the test-taker is asked to repeat the three words from the beginning of the test.
What is the 12-question dementia test?
The SAGE test (self-administered gerocognitive exam) is designed to detect early signs of dementia. It typically takes 15 minutes to complete and features 12 questions measuring problem-solving, memory, judgment, visual/spatial, and language aptitude. Examples of test questions include:
- Write down the names of 12 animals.
- How are a rose and a tulip similar?
- How many quarters are in $1.25?
The SAGE test can be taken at home but should be reviewed by a physician who can interpret the results and provide an accurate conclusion/diagnosis. Again, some serious health conditions have symptoms similar to dementia— so it’s vital to receive guidance from a physician.
What is a quick test for dementia?
Most dementia tests are brief— typically taking between three (the mini-cog) and 15 (the SAGE test) minutes to complete.
What is the number one trigger for dementia behavior?
The things that trigger dementia behavior often differ between individuals. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Experiencing changes in environment.
- Becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
- Changes in health or medication.
- Large crowds.
- Being surrounded by unfamiliar people.
What is the number one predictor of dementia?
Age is the most significant predictive factor for dementia.
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