“Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Dementia is not a specific disease as much as it is a description of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 80% of all cases. Every person with Alzheimer’s has dementia, but not all people suffering from dementia have Alzheimer’s.
Other forms of dementia include:
- Vascular dementia occurs after a stroke, but strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. Vascular dementia results from insufficient blood flow to parts of the brain.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies is very similar to Alzheimer’s and is commonly misdiagnosed. Lewy bodies dementia (LBD) includes Parkinson’s disease with Lewy bodies. Risk factors for LBD are advanced age and being male. Decreasing caffeine consumption was shown to reduce symptoms for both types of LBD.
- Mixed dementia refers to two or three types of dementia that occur together.
- Huntington's disease may include symptoms of dementia.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (mad cow disease) is a form of dementia caused by prions. Typically, it’s caused by eating contaminated meat.
- AIDS dementia occurs in some AIDS patients as the disease progresses.
- Neurosyphilis is a form of dementia that occurs during the late stages of the disease.
- Frontotemporal dementia ( Pick's disease) causes the frontal and temporal anterior lobes of the brain to shrink and results in symptoms of dementia. Pick’s disease has a genetic component and may run in families.
- Benson’s syndrome, or posterior cortical atrophy, is similar to Alzheimer’s except the changes occur in a different part of the brain.
- Down syndrome increases the likelihood of early Alzheimer's.
Because dementia is a description of symptoms, it may develop for a variety of reasons. Dementia symptoms may occur with hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, pernicious anemia (caused by B12 deficiency), and depression. All of these symptoms may be remedied with prompt treatment.
Toxic reactions to certain drugs, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-Parkinson drugs, anti-anxiety medications, cardiovascular drugs, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, narcotics, and sedatives, can simulate the symptoms of dementia. However, once taken off the drugs, patients are cured.
Hydrocephalus, which occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain, may cause someone to develop dementia symptoms. If the fluid is drained before brain damage occurs, dementia may disappear.
Subdural hematomas are usually caused by vehicle crashes or some sort of severe, traumatic injury to the brain. If the clot can be removed, the patient may recover; however, that person will always be at risk of dementia.
Tumors may cause symptoms of dementia. Quick treatment may heal the patient.
8 Risk Factors for Dementia
Could your parent be experiencing the early symptoms of dementia? Through research, scientists have identified risk factors for dementia. They include:
- Advancing age. Only 1% of people age 65 or older has Alzheimer's, but a third of people age 85 or older has the disease.
- Family history. If you have a parent, sibling or child with Alzheimer’s, you are more likely to develop the disease. If more than one close relative has the disease, your risk is increased.
- Head trauma includes repeated trauma from sports or severe trauma involving loss of consciousness. Examples include sports injuries and auto accidents.
- Heart problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol, may lead to deprivation of circulation to brain cells and cause Alzheimer’s.
- Latinos and African-Americans have higher rates of vascular disease, so they may have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- People with obesity have smaller brain volumes, which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s. And then there’s the link between obesity and heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Excessive alcohol use may play a factor in Alzheimer’s; however, researchers have difficulty differentiating Alzheimer’s and alcohol-related dementia.
- Smoking increases blood pressure and causes other symptoms that may lead to vascular disease and dementia.
How to Identify Dementia
Healthcare providers use the Mini-Mental State Examination to identify cognitive problems.
People who are concerned they may have problems can take the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE), which evaluates thinking abilities. SAGE provides four tests, any of which may be downloaded. It’s not necessary to take all four.
One of the tests asks for the person’s medical history before asking the date. It continues by asking test-takers to identify two images, copy a drawing, describe similarities, and more. The tests must be interpreted by a physician.
My Brain Test offers a checklist for caregivers, friends and family of people who may have dementia here. It requires you to submit your email before you receive the assessment.
The Alzheimer’s Reading Room offers the following test:
- Name 3 common objects and ask the person being tested to repeat them. If the person is unable to repeat the 3 objects after a few tries, consult a physician immediately.
- Ask the person to draw a clock. If the shape or numbers are inaccurate, there is a problem. If they can’t draw the clock at all, the person may be cognitively impaired.
- Ask the person to repeat the 3 objects from the first part of the test. If the person is unable to repeat any of the words, they may be cognitively impaired. If they can repeat all 3 words, they probably are fine.
Always Consult a Doctor
There are numerous reasons someone may perform poorly on such a taste, ranging from medication side effects to exhaustion to illness. That’s why it’s important to consult a doctor before making a determination.
If your parent is struggling with memory impairment, we can help. Our Reflections neighborhoods have specially designed memory care programs to keep your loved one engaged and active in a safe, homelike environment.
The Arbors offers structured daily programs, dementia-friendly dining and supervised outings, as well as assistance with daily personal care. We want to ensure each resident lives a lifestyle of health and wellness.