Understanding Dementia: A Comprehensive Guide

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of conditions characterized by abnormal brain changes which cause memory loss and judgment difficulties. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s are two conditions that may cause dementia. Dementia is characterized by a decline in the ability to think clearly, which becomes severe enough to negatively impact daily life.

Symptoms of Dementia

Signs of dementia may start out slowly and progressively worsen. Problems with short-term memory are common. Losing track of keys or a wallet happen quite often. Someone with dementia may have difficulty remembering appointments or might get lost traveling out of their neighborhood.

Someone with dementia may find it difficult to find the words to communicate exactly what they are trying to tell you. They may frequently need your help in solving a problem. Complex tasks may be difficult for them. They may find themselves often confused and disoriented.

What Causes Dementia?

Symptoms of dementia are brought on from a wide variety of different causes. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases, according to the United Brain Association. The second most common cause is vascular dementia, which can happen when someone has a stroke or other brain injury.

Another common cause, Lewy body dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in that it is linked to abnormal protein clumping in the brain. Frontotemporal dementia happens when neurons in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes degenerate. Other disorders that are linked to dementia include:

  • Huntington’s disease
  • Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Thyroid problems
  • Brain tumors
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Infections
  • Side effects of medication

Risk Factors for Dementia

Some risk factors you have control over and some you do not. For example, your risk rises particularly after you are age 65. However, it can occur in younger people as well. Your family history is another factor. If someone in your family has dementia, you may be at a greater risk. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop dementia. Individuals with Down syndrome are at a greater risk as many develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in their middle age.

Here are the risk factors that you do have control of:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Sleep apnea
  • Alcohol Use: Drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis
  • Cardiovascular Factors: High blood pressure, obesity, and a fat buildup in your artery walls
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Having low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folate

Dementia Prevention

Although there is no surefire way to prevent dementia, there are some things you can do to help. Participating in regular physical activity can reduce your risk. Getting regular exercise helps with circulation, heart health, mood, and weight control, all of which have an effect on your risk of getting dementia.

Eating a diet that is good for your health also puts you on the right track. Ideally, you should eat whole foods that are rich in nutrients. Keep sugar, fats, and salt to a minimum.

Final Thoughts

As dementia is caused by many different conditions, there is currently no cure for it. Research is focused on finding cures for the diseases that cause dementia. With that being said, dementia is treatable through prescription medications and alternative therapies, for example. If you suspect that someone you love may have dementia, encourage them to seek out help from their physician.

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