Dementia Facts

Dementia is a disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Often mistaken as a disease in itself, dementia refers to a set of symptoms that lead to degeneration of the brain. Dementia accounts for the second largest cause of mental disability in people across the world, the first being depression.

Mostly associated with old age, dementia can also occur in young people, mainly due to brain injuries, tumors, infections, drug or alcohol abuse, or oxygen deprivation of the brain. Patients suffering from dementia suffer a loss of memory, retarded cognitive ability, and hindered intellectual functions. Here is a list of 5 facts about dementia:

1. Types of Dementia

Dementia is not a single disease but a group of syndromes leading to brain dysfunction. There are various types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for almost 80% of the cases. Vascular dementia is another type of dementia, mostly caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, smoking, etc. Other types of dementia include Parkinson’s disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Huntington’s disease, Pick’s dementia, Frontal Lobe Dementia (FLD), etc.

2. Gender Matters

Over the past few decades, researchers have observed that women tend to be more vulnerable to dementia than men. Over the age of 55, every one in six females suffers the risk of developing dementia. Although the cause behind this is yet to be confirmed, yet one theory suggests that in most countries particularly the United States, women tend to live longer than men, thereby adding to the statistics of patients suffering from dementia. There is another theory that suggests that after menopause; women suffer from lowered levels of the hormone estrogen, which may also be a contributing factor to the risk of dementia in women; however, the authenticity of this theory is still under question.

3. Age Factor

Although there may be external factors involved like injury and brain diseases causing dementia in people, it is an age-related disorder commonly affecting the elderly. It is alarming to note that every five years after the age of 60, the risk of dementia in normal human adults grows double. Dementia affects one in five people past the age of 80, and almost 30% to 50% of people past the age of 85 suffer from dementia. It is important that we teach children about Dementia as, at present, approximately twenty-four million people around the world suffer from some form of dementia.

4. Possible Treatments

While dementia is mostly irreversible and incurable, there are some specific treatments available that are effective in certain types of dementia. Proper medication can assist in the treatment of dementia associated with diabetes, HIV infections, metabolic disorders and deficiencies, blood pressure, depression, etc. In the case of injuries and tumors, dementia can be treated by means of surgery. An important point to note is that these treatments only inhibit further growth of dementia and not undo the brain degeneration caused by it.

5. Prevention

Eating healthy from an early age does a lot to prevent dementia. Fresh fruits and vegetables are known to contain anti-oxidants that improve the overall health of the brain and the vascular system. Vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, both found in oily fish, are considered good for the brain. Although abstinence from drugs and alcohol is also considered beneficial, red wine taken in medicinal quantity is known to lower the risk of dementia.

Types of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a mental condition wherein the person loses higher brain functions such as having memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia which keeps deteriorating with time. Alzheimer’s is also a degenerative disease which causes memory impairment, and changes in behavior and thinking. In the following video, Frank Longo, Chair of the Department of Neurology at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, explains more about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and discusses the symptoms, risk factors, research, and treatments.

1. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease is very gradual. Symptoms are generally dismissed by family members initially as “a normal part of aging”. Short term memory loss such as repeatedly forgetting to turn off the stove or inability to recall which of the morning medicines were taken is common in the early stages of the disease but research is going on to reveal more about the causes and find effective treatments. As the disease progresses, problems in other intellectual functions occur. In the later stages, the individuals may get confused or disoriented about basic things such as their names, what month of the year, are not able to make conversations, etc. In the late stage of the disease, they become totally incapable of caring for themselves and usually die of some other illness rather than as a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease.

2. What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease

With age, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease development rises, as it usually strikes in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, it is not a normal part of aging. Having a blood relative who has Alzheimer’s disease increases your risk. According to a number of scientists, the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein is what results in Alzheimer’s. The accumulation actually leads to the death of nerve cells. Some other risk factors may include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, serious head injury and possibly elevated blood cholesterol.  All people suffering from Down Syndrome are known to develop Alzheimer’s disease in their 40s.

3.  Types of Alzheimer’s Disease

We can, generally, distinguish between 3 types of Alzheimer’s: Early-Onset Alzheimer’s, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s, and Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD). Early onset is a rare form of the disease and is mostly genetic. People with Down syndrome are more at risk for this form of Alzheimer’s disease. In the early onset, the symptoms usually appear in the 40s and 50s and progress rapidly. Late onset of Alzheimer’s disease is more common and accounts for 90% of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It usually strikes after the age of 60. Familial Alzheimer’s disease is considered to have genetic causes, wherein two family member generations suffered from Alzheimer’s. FAD is a rare condition and only 1% of Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed as FAD.

4. Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

There is no single test that can definitely diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Mental diagnosis includes noting full medical history, mood evaluation, assessment of cognitive skills, memory and concentration. Physical examination is done to rule out other causes of dementia. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be a demanding task and persons who do this may need lots of support. The more they know about the disease, the better and more confident they can take care of their loved one. Alzheimer’s is a typical family affair and it’s important to get all the help they can to avoid caretaker burnout.

5. Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  The drugs given to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are aimed at slowing the pace at which the symptoms progress.  It is essential for the family members and caregivers to be supportive of the patient and modify the home environment suitably in order to manage behavior problems, sleep problems, and agitation.