A general term for a decline in mental ability to an extent that it interferes with daily life, dementia is not a specific disease, but rather an overall umbrella term which stands for a group of symptoms. While Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases, there are other types, such as vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, but also other types, some of which are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

Dementia types

Characterized by plaque that forms between dying brain cells and tangles within the cells, both of which are caused by protein abnormalities, Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain tissue to gradually reduce the amount of nerve cells and connections. Dementia with Lewy bodies, on the other hand, is a neurodegenerative disease caused by to abnormal structural growth in brain cells. Although often considered a disorder of movement, Parkinson’s disease can also lead to dementia symptoms, and is marked by the presence of Lewy bodies. Mixed dementia refers to two or three types occurring simultaneously.

Causes of dementia

In short, dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Among the brain’s multiple distinct regions, each one is associated with different functions like movement, judgement, memory, verbal communication, etc. Various dementia types are caused by particular types of brain cells damage in particular brain regions.

Alzheimer’ disease

In Alzheimer’s disease, for example, the presence of high protein levels inside and outside brain cells disrupts their mutual communication (through chemical processes). Often the first cells that are damaged are those in the region of hippocampus, which is the centre of learning and memory. This is why memory loss is often the earlies indicator of Alzheimer’s.

Post-traumatic dementia

Some types of dementia are directly related to brain cells death as a result of injury. Certain types of traumatic brain injury, especially if repetitive, such as those received by professional sportsmen, have been linked to certain dementia types occurring later in life. While evidence is weak, it’s unlikely that a single brain injury increases the risk of having a degenerative dementia type such as Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia

If the oxygen supply to the brain is reduced as a result of narrowed or blocked blood vessels, brain cells suffer damage or even die out. The symptoms may occur suddenly, such as after a large stroke, or develop over time as a result of a series of small strokes. Vascular dementia can also be caused by disease affecting small blood vessels inside the brain, which is known as subcortical vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

This dementia type involves forming of small abnormal structures, known as Lewy bodies inside brain cells. They disrupt the chemical processes inside the cells, and lead to their premature death. Early symptoms include difficulty in judging spatial distances, hallucinations, and increased alertness. Unlike with Alzheimer’s disease, in early stages of Lewy dementia, a person’s day-to-day memory is usually not as affected. Dementia with Lewy bodies is closely associated to Parkinson’s disease and often has the range of same symptoms, including difficulty in controlling movement.

Frontotemporal dementia

In this type of dementia, the front and side parts of the brain are damaged, with clumps of abnormal proteins forming inside brain cells, causing them to die. In the early stages. Changes in personality and behaviour might be the early warning. Later on, depending on which areas of the brain are damaged, the person might have difficulties with fluent speech and trouble remembering the meaning of words.

Dementia treatments

Since brain cell dying out cannot be reversed, there is no efficient cure for degenerative dementia. Instead, management of disorders such as Alzheimer disease is focused on providing excellent aged care and treating symptoms, rather than their underlying cause. Aimed at greatly improving the quality of resident’s life on daily basis, these microtown-based communities present a radical departure from outdated traditional aged care facilities. In these communities, residents are encouraged to help with daily chores, which makes their minds active, while enjoying a full freedom of movement in a safe environment, as well as their favourite pastimes and hobbies, such as shopping, going to the movies, or beauty parlours.

Symptoms of dementia

While dementia symptoms vary greatly depending on the specific type, dementia is diagnosed if at least two of these core mental functions are significantly impaired: memory, reasoning and judgement, communication and language, visual perception, and ability to focus. Examples of problems that people with dementia face include short-term memory, planning house chores, preparing meals, keeping track of money, paying bills, traveling out of the neighbourhood, and remembering appointments.

Preventive measures

While there is no sure way to prevent dementia, there are certain risk inhibitors that might help. The first one is to keep your mid active well into the retirement. Take part in mentally stimulating activities and train your memory. Social interaction and moderate exercise might also delay the onset of dementia and reduce its symptoms. There are studies that show that smoking in middle age and beyond may increase the risk of vascular dementia. People with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, maintaining a healthy diet not only reduces blood pressure, but certain types, such as the Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Reversible dementia-like conditions

There are certain dementia causes of dementia-like symptoms that can be reversed through proper treatment. This includes infections and immune disorders, such as symptoms resulting from a fever or other side effects of the body fighting an infection. Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities, such as hypoglycaemia, insufficient sodium or calcium, impaired B-12 absorption, or thyroid issues can also develop into dementia-like symptoms which can be treated. Sometimes, even reactions to medications or interaction of several medications can cause dementia-like symptoms.

Many dementia types are progressive, which means the symptoms start out slowly and get worse over time. If someone in your family is experiencing memory challenges, make sure they visit a doctor who’ll determine the cause. Even if the symptoms suggest dementia, early diagnosis allows a person to get a maximum benefit of available treatments and also prepare a plan for the future.

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