What is Dementia?
Demenia is a syndrome marked by a group of related symptoms. It is associated with the ongoing decline of the brain’s abilities. Many believe that it is due to damage to the structure of the brain. With help from family and friends, people with dementia can lead safe lives.
Symptoms of Dementia
The symptoms of dementia reside in the brain meaning they are more mental than physical. Although, they may become physical at times. A person with dementia will begin to lose their memory, become frustrated while thinking, have difficulty with language and understanding, and display poor judgement that is out of their character. They may also have issues controlling their emotions and behaving appropriately in public. Often, a person with dementia will become apathetic as their personality begins to change. As the syndrome progresses, they may see or hear things that are not in reality, and they may hold strictly to false beliefs.
Is Dementia Common?
Unfortunately, Dementia is a relatively common condition. An estimated 570,000 people are living with Dementia symptoms in England alone. Within 30 years, this number is expected to double. It usually occurs in those who are over 65 years old, but it can develop earlier in rare cases. As a person ages, their chance of showing symptoms of dementia increases. Also, it is slightly less common in men than it is in women.
Types Of Dementia
There are four types of dementia, and are marked by the portion of the brain that is damaged.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that occurs when small clumps of protein, referred to as plaques, develop around the cells of the brain. These plaques disrupt the normal processes of the brain. This is the most common type of dementia.
Vascular dementia occurs when poor blood circulation results in sections of the brain lacking blood and oxygen.
Another type of dementia is dementia with Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are abnormal structures that develop inside the brain.
Fronto-temporal dementia is when the frontol and temporal lobes, two separate sections of the brain, start to shrink This type of dementia is much more rare than the other types, but usually develops in those that are under 65 years old.
The remainder of this article will focus on vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia.
Future with Dementia
At this point in time, there is no cure for dementia. Once it begins to develop, the dementia symptoms will become worse with time. However, there are treatments that work effectively to help those diagnosed to cope with their symptoms and give them a better quality of life.
Types Of Dementia And Their Symptoms
Symptoms of Vascular Dementia
Dementia symptoms associated with the vascular type often develop suddenly and worsen quickly. A person with vascular dementia will experience increased difficulty with tasks that require concentration or planning, periods of mental confustion, memory loss, and a low attention span. They may suffer from changes in the personality or mood and depression. Some symptoms of vascular dementia are also physical. Urinary incontinence, stroke-like symptoms, and a slow and unsteady gait are often associated with this type of dementia. The most dangerous symptoms are wandering during the night and visual hallucinations.
Symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies
In the case of dementia with Lewy bodies, the symptoms develop slower but become more severe over several years. Many of the symptoms are similar to other types of dementia. These include memory loss, low attention span, difficulty planning ahead, believing things that are not true, and periods of mental confusion. However, some of the symptoms are more unique to this type of dementia. People with dementia with Lewy bodies experience visual halluciantions, but they almost always see people or animals that are not real. They will experience muscle stiffness, trembling of the arms and legs, slower movements, and a loss of facial expression. People with dementia with Lewy bodies also have difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms of Fronto-temporal Dementia
The frontal and temporal lobes of the brain help control emotional responses and behavior. Damage to these lobes can cause frontotemporal dementia. The initial dementia symptoms often involve changes in emotion, behavior, and personality more than the more typical symptoms associated with dementia. They may seem less sensitive to other people’s feelings causing them to seem cold and uncaring. They also lose the inhibitions that people without dementia have. This could result in strange behavior, such as making inappropriate comments or gestures in public places and being rude. Other symptoms include aggression, compulsive behavior, and becoming easily distracted. Fronto-temporal dementia also causes problems with language, which often results in speaking far less or not at all.
Causes Of Dementia
Causes of Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia is due to an interruption in the supply of blood to the brain. The brain, like the rest of the body, needs the oxygen and nutrients from blood in order to function properly. A lack of blood causes cells in the area to die. This means that when the blood is not reaching the brain as well as it should be, brain cells die causing vascular dementia.
This cause of dementia often occurs gradually. The interruption of the blood causes the vessels in the brain to become narrow and hard. When this begins to occur, fatty deposits build up on the blood vessel walls and restrict the blood flow even more. This process is called atherosclerosis. When atherosclerosis occurs in the smaller blood vessels of the brain, this is called small vessel disease. In the smaller vessels, the can become completely clogged up, ceasing blood flow altogether.
There are several factors that contribute to atherosclerosis and small vessel disease. These include diabetes, obestiy, overindulgence of alcohol, smoking, a lack of exercise, and a high-fat diet.
When the blood supply is interrupted instantly, such as during a stroke, this can also contribute to damage in the brain. While not everyone who has suffered from a stroke will develop vascular dementia, they are at higher risk.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Little is known about dementia with Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are small, circular lumps made of protein that develop inside of the brain. Scientists are not sure what causes their formation or how they damage the brain and cause dementia. However, one theory suggests that the block the effects of dopamine and acetylcholine, two neurotransmitters in the brain.
These neurotransmitters act as messengers that send information from one cell in the brain to another. Dopamine and acetylcholine play an important role in regulating brain functions, such as learning, memory, attention, and mood. When they are blocked, their effects are minimized. The Lewy bodies cause the symptoms of dementia to develop.
Causes of Fronto-temporal Dementia
When the temporal lobe and frontal lobe of the brain are increasing damaged, they begin to shrink and cause fronto-temporal dementia. An estimated 40-50% of fronto-temporal dementia patients inherited a genetic mutation from their paretns. This genetic mutation is though to have a negative effect on the tau protein, a protein in the brain cells that help to keep them stable. If these proteins do not function properly, the brain cells are damaged and fronto-temporal dementia can develop.
Another common cause of fronto-temporal dementia are motor neurone diseases. These are diseases that attack the motor neurons in the brain causing the patient to lose control of automatic functions, such as breathing and swallowing.
Uncommon Causes of Dementia
Dementia or dementia symptoms that are not actually the syndrome can have a variety of causes. Some of these causes are less common and even treatable. This may be something as simple as repeated injuries to the head, dehydration, or a deficiency of vitamin B, and they may be as rare as Huntington’s Disease of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Certain lung and heart conditions can also interrupt the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and cause dementia. Other issues may cause symptoms of dementia that may develop into it. These include infections of the brain, a thyroid gland that does not function properly, or a brain tumor. Lead or pesticide poisoning also causes dementia symptoms.
Treatment Of Dementia
What Qualifies as Good Dementia Care?
The Department of Health published a National Dementia Strategy. The three themes it focuses on are raising awareness, early diagnosis and intervention, and improving the quality of care patients receive. All dementia services should ensure a list of ideas provided by the Department of Health. All patients deserve a quick and competent assessment, and that an accurate diagnosis is given with sensitivity. After diagnosis, they should be given immediate care and continued support for both the patient and their loved ones who will also be affected. Access to information and help is necessary for all invovled. The patient may need to be in a hospital or a care home, but the family may benefit from a support group. It is the job of the medical professionals to direct them to these options.
Life After a Diagnosis
Dementia affects the patient and their entire family. Thankfully, there is support to help all involved. Those who have been diagnosed with dementia or are experiencing symptoms of dementia should try to remain as independent as they can. This means continuing to live in their home, practice their usual activities, and socialize with friends. However, as the dementia symptoms get worse, it may be unsafe for them to live alone. It is often less stressful for the family and for the patient to move into a residential care facility before the symptoms become uncontrollable. It is understandable to be concerned about the future, but with the help of social services and voluntary organisations, the process can be far easier.
Self-care is a part of daily life for nearly everyone. People must take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. After a diagnosis of dementia, they will need support from other people. Before a diagnosis, there are many actions an individual can take to avoid being put in a situation where self-care begins to disintigrate. By staying healthy, both physically and mentally, preventing injuries, and going to the doctor regularly, people can minimize their risk of dementia in the future.