Metabolic conditions, endocrine issues, nutritional deficiencies, and infections are some of the causes of different types of dementia.
While older people are more likely to experience dementia, it is not part of the ageing process and can affect younger people too.
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Main symptoms associated with each dementia type
Forgetfulness is one sign of some kinds of dementia.
Different types of dementia will share some symptoms, but other symptoms will be specific to the disease. These are some of the main types of dementia.
A doctor cannot officially diagnose a dementia type as Alzheimer's, because they must view specific nerve cell damage in the brain that can only be examined after a person dies.
In the early stages, people with Alzheimer's typically have difficulty remembering recent events or conversations, as well as names of people. They may also experience depression.
In time, people find it increasingly difficult to communicate, and their judgment may become impaired. They may feel disoriented and confusion. Their behavior could change, and physical activities such as swallowing and walking might become harder.
This condition represents a number of brain diseases that are believed to be triggered by prion proteins, which cause problems throughout the body. Although a prion is neither a virus nor a bacterium, it can cause a disease.
Types of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease include "mad cow disease." The condition causes rapid memory, behavior, and movement changes. It is a rare and fatal condition.
Dementia with Lewy bodies
The symptoms can be similar to those of Alzheimer's disease, but people who have dementia with Lewy bodies may also experience sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and an unsteady walking pattern.
This condition can trigger changes in how people behave and how they relate to others. It can also cause problems with language and movement.
Frontotemporal dementia typically tends to appear in an individual at around 60 years of age, but it can appear as early as the 20s. It involves a loss of nerve cells.
Parkinson's is a motor system disorder. The hallmark signs include trembling, especially tremor in the hands. It can also involve depression and behavioral changes.
In the later stages, the individual may have difficulty speaking. Sleep disturbances might also occur.
Huntington's is a genetic disorder that results from a defect on chromosome 4. It can lead to mood changes, abnormal movements, and depression.
The person may experience an ongoing decline in thinking and reasoning skills. There could be slurred speech and problems with coordination. It tends to appear in individuals aged between 30 and 50 years old.
Mixed dementia occurs when a person has dementia due to more than one cause, such as Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia, or Alzheimer's disease.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus
This condition results when cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain, therefore causing pressure.
Symptoms can include memory loss, problems with movement, and the inability to control urination. It can happen at any age, but it is more common among older people.
Also known as post-stroke dementia, this condition occurs after a person experiences bleeding or vessel blockage in the brain, known as a stroke. It affects a person's thinking and physical movements.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, early symptoms may include an inability to organize, plan, or make decisions.
This condition occurs due to a chronic deficiency of vitamin B1 or thiamine. It is most common in those who chronically abuse alcohol. The effects of alcohol and a poor diet are likely to contribute to the development of the condition.
The chief symptom is severely impaired memory, including long-term memory gaps, which the person may try to fill in with incorrect versions of what they think happened. This unintentional lying is known as confabulation.
Causes associated with dementia
Various factors can lead to different kinds of dementia, but they invariably involve some form of damage to the nerve cells. How dementia affects people also depends on where in the brain the damage occurs.
Amyloid plaques in the brain are a hallmark feature of Alzheimer's.
The exact cause of Alzheimer's disease is not known, but a person with the condition will have amyloid plaques and tangles in their brain.
Lewy bodies are clumps of protein that develop in people with Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease.
Vascular dementia is the result of damage to blood vessels in the brain.
Metabolic or endocrine issues, such as thyroid problems, can lead to dementia if the body is not able to absorb certain nutrients. Nutritional factors, such as a low intake of vitamin B12, can also play a role.
Infections can lead to some kinds of dementia. Multiple sclerosis is an immune condition in which the body attacks its own nerve cells.
Traumatic brain injury has been linked to dementia in footballers.
Risk factors for dementia
While the cause of Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, remains unknown, a number of lifestyle choices can help to prevent other forms of the condition.
The following factors could all reduce the risk of developing the disease:
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and smoking
- Maintaining a healthy blood pressure level
- Controlling diabetes
Seeking medical help for depression, infections, and traumatic brain injury can also reduce the chance of developing some types of dementia.
Lifestyle tips for people with dementia
Complications of dementia can include a deterioration of physical health, as the individual becomes less able to take care of themselves or to eat properly.
At some point, a person with dementia is likely to need someone to look after them.
Although the symptoms of dementia gradually get worse, a person can continue to live independently for some time following a diagnosis.
The United Kingdom's National Health Service note that it is important to remain in contact with others, continue to see friends and family, and possibly join a support group.
Sleep has also been known to pose a problem. Good sleep hygiene tips include keeping to regular bedtimes, not napping during the day, and avoiding alcohol or caffeine at night.
Many people with dementia can keep active by doing the things they have always enjoyed, such as walking or gardening.
In time, the person may need help at home, and they might need to move into a residential home when it becomes too difficult to live independently.
Family or friends who care for the person with dementia may wish to consider discussing future plans with them while they are still able to think clearly and to make decisions.