Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Dementia

Understanding Dementia

Understanding dementia

Dementia is not a single disorder, rather it is a term that refers to a collection of symptoms that include decreased intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities of daily living. Dementia often is used to describe men and women who struggle with impairment (or complete loss of function) in two or more major life functions like memory, verbal ability, perception, judgement, or reasoning. People who have dementia may lose control of their behaviors and emotions, develop changes in their personality, and lose or have diminished abilities to solve problems. In some instances, although a person appears to have developed dementia, a severe type of depression may be causing the symptoms. Called “pseudo-dementia” this condition is highly treatable. In most cases, though, dementia is not able to be cured.

Dementia is the result of parts of the brain involved with memory, decision-making, learning, and language are affected by one or more infections, diseases, or injuries to the brain. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common forms of dementia, up to fifty other types of dementia have been identified – although most are very rare. It’s vital to seek the counsel of a physician if you or a loved one is experiencing dementia-like symptoms as some of the causes for dementia can be cured or partially treated. The frequency of treatable, or manageable, causes of dementia is approximately 20%.

Dementia was once called “senility” and considered to be a normal part of aging. While some age-related benign memory loss is normal, dementia is not normal. Dementia should never be considered a normal part of the aging process. While a diagnosis of dementia can feel like a death sentence, there have been many advances in the care for and treatment of people who have dementia. With proper care, effective medications, and prompt treatment, people who have dementia can spend longer and longer leading a happy, and fulfilled life.


Statistics of dementia

Dementia can be classified in a variety of ways as a means to group disorders that have particular features in common, such as the disease course (progressive) or area of the brain affected. It’s important to note that certain types of dementia fit into one or more dementia classifications. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is both progressive, primary, and cortical dementia.

Frequently used classifications for dementia include:

Cortical dementia: cortical dementias are dementia in which damage to the brain mostly affects the outer layer of the brain – the cortex. Cortical dementias usually cause problems with thinking, memory, language, and social behaviors. Examples of cortical dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Stroke
  • Diffuse Lewy Body disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Pick’s disease
  • Binswanger’s disease

Subcortical dementia: subcortical dementia is a type of dementia in which parts of the brain below the cortex (outer layer of the brain) is affected. Subcortical dementia leads to changes in emotional regulation and movement as well as problems with memory. Examples of subcortical dementias include:

  • Huntington’s disease
  • AIDS dementia complex
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Steele-Richardson-Olchewsky disease

Progressive dementia is dementia that worsens over time, gradually interfering with more and greater cognitive abilities. Examples of progressive dementias include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia

Primary dementia: primary dementias are dementias that are the result of a disease such as Alzheimer’s disease that is not caused by any other disorder. Types of primary dementias include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Corticobasal degeneration
  • Pick’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia

Secondary dementia: secondary dementia occurs as a result of physical injuries or diseases. Examples of secondary dementias include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • AIDS dementia complex
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Encephalitis
  • Wilson’s disease
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome


Causes of dementia

All types of dementia are the result of the death of nerve cells and/or the loss of communication among these cells. The human brain is a mysterious organ and many different factors interfere with proper functioning. While researchers are currently investigating the causes for dementia, we’re still lacking full information about all the factors that can lead to the development of dementia. The most commonly held beliefs about the causes for dementia include:

Genetic: It’s clear that genetics play a large role in the development in some forms of dementia; however, many cases of dementia cannot be accounted for by genetics alone. People who have a family history of dementias are more prone to develop the disorder themselves although many never develop dementia.

Physiology: The risks for certain types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia increase with advancing age. Atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the inner linings of arteries are significant risk factors for dementia as they interfere with the normal flow of blood into the brain. High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) also appear to increase the risk for developing this disorder. Diabetes is also a risk factor for dementia as it can cause both atherosclerosis and stroke.

Environmental: Individuals who smoke and engage in a high fat, low fiber diet are at greater risk for developing consequences that may lead to dementia. In addition, it’s been discovered that keeping an active mind and social life lower the risks for developing dementia.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dementia

The symptoms of dementia will vary according to individual genetic makeup, type of dementia experienced, and length of time the person has been dealing with dementia. Some of the more common symptoms of dementia can include the following, broken down into stages:

Early Dementia:

  • Memory loss is usually the earliest and most easily recognized symptom of dementia
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Trouble remembering recent events or recognizing places and people
  • Difficulties planning and carrying out tasks
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Challenges controlling moods and behaviors.
  • Challenges in judgment – such as being unable to react if there is an emergency
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Decline in personal appearance
  • Decreased ability to care for oneself
  • Personality changes

Intermediate Dementia:

  • Worsening of symptoms of early dementia with less ability to compensate
  • Abnormal moods
  • Requiring help to complete everyday tasks
  • Confabulation – strongly-held belief that a person has done something he or she has not
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Depression
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Inability to learn new information
  • Increasing disorientation even in familiar environments
  • Hallucinations

Severe Dementia:

  • Worsening of symptoms of early and intermediate dementia
  • May be unable to walk without assistance
  • Impaired movements, such as the ability to swallow
  • Complete dependence upon caregivers
  • Loss of short-term and long-term memory
  • Complications from symptoms: incontinence, malnutrition, bedsores


Effects of dementia

The effects of dementia will vary wildly among men and women with dementia based upon the type of dementia, stage of the disease, and other medical co-occurring disorders. Some of the most common effects of dementia may include:

  • Reduction of personal hygiene
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Challenges taking medications
  • Difficulties communicating
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Emotional health deterioration
  • Personal safety challenges
  • Increased infections
  • Falls

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