Dementia: All You Need to Know About It & What You Should Do
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Across the world, approximately 50 million people living with Dementia—one in six people past 80 live with it. By the year 2050, a total of 152 million cases are expected to surge with low and middle-income countries leading the rise where about ⅔ of people with Dementia live. This condition not only affects the said individuals, their families, and their loved ones. This condition has a broader impact affecting the entire economy, with costs projected at around US$ 1 trillion every year globally.
This article helps you explore everything you need to know about Dementia and what you can do about it.
What is Dementia & Why You Should Care
Dementia is an overarching term that covers a broad range of medical conditions, including one of the most popular Alzheimer’s diseases. Contrary to common belief, this condition is not a single disease. Instead, it is an umbrella term of conditions and symptoms that affect the memory, thinking, and other social abilities of an individual enough to intrude and dominate your daily life.
History of Dementia
The history of Dementia had its roots when Egyptian psychiatrists took note of the concept way back in the 2,000 B.C. However, it was only until the year 1979 that the very condition was coined a name by a French psychiatrist, Philippe Pinel. The word Dementia is a term derived from Latin, literally meaning, ‘out of one’s mind.’
Dating back from the 18th century, Dementia was used to identify people with mental deficiency across all ages. Later on, people having a loss of cognitive ability became the recipient of this term. It was during this period that Doctor James Cowles Prichard coined the term ‘senile dementia.’ This new-coined term was then often associated with old age, as the term senile suggests.
In the past, syphilis was considered the common cause of Dementia until Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered the primary cause, a condition named after himself, Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, the study of Dementia as conditions surged prompting Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska’s invention of the electron microscope, which made brain cells magnification possible. In 1993, an entire month was dedicated to broadening the awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease. It was in 1984 that the National Institute of Aging showed support to Alzheimer’s disease centers through the establishment of a nationwide research network. By the year 1993, scientists successfully came up with the first-ever drug to treat dementia symptoms and memory loss.
The fight against Dementia is a fight that echoed globally with leaders all over the world initiating different projects to address Alzheimer’s disease. However, despite all the substantial efforts made over the years, as long as Dementia is still prevalent, our fight continues. In fact, the number of Dementia cases continues to rise with the years. This rise may be explained by the fact that Dementia as a condition still cannot be prevented completely. However, this does not mean that all the efforts made to increase its awareness are in vain. Certain activities like following the right diet and exercise are found to lower the risk of Dementia. Hence, as long as there is something we can do, the fight should persist.
Causes of Dementia
Brain cell damage causes the phenomenon of Dementia. This kind of damage is one that is severe enough to interfere with the normal activity of brain cells to communicate with each other. As a logical consequence, when these brain cells do not communicate as they should, behavior, feelings, and thinking are normally affected.
Our brain has various regions. Each region is tasked with varying functions. When cells in a certain region become damaged, that region ceases to carry out its normal function.
There are different types of Dementia. Each is associated with precise types of brain cell damage in certain regions of the brain. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease is associated with high levels of particular proteins in and out of the brain cells. This makes it hard for brain cells to carry its normal function properly. Hippocampus is a brain region considered as the center of learning and memory. Usually, the brain cells in this particular region are generally the first casualty of damage. This is why memory loss is usually one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
One of the complexities of Dementia is the fact that there is no one test to determine whether a person has it. What doctors do is diagnose types of Dementia from a close examination of a person’s physical examination, medical history, laboratory tests, characteristic changes in thinking, behavior, and feeing. Based on the foregoing, doctors can determine with certainty if a person has Dementia or not. However, the challenge comes in determining the specific type of Dementia because of the overlap of symptoms.
Common Signs of Dementia
When it comes to Dementia, the symptoms may differ depending on the cause. It affects each individual in a certain way based on the impact of the disease on the individual. While there are common symptoms of Dementia, these signs are better understood in three different stages:
The Early Stage
The early stage of Dementia is one that is often overlooked, perhaps because of its slow development. Common early-stage symptoms include:
- Losing track of time
- Becoming lost in familiar places
- Becoming forgetful
The Middle Stage
As the condition progresses to this stage, most symptoms become more clear and interfering. These common signs include:
- Forgetting the latest events
- Forgetting people’s names
- Losing track of direction even at home
- Having difficulty communicating or finding the right words
- Needing help with personal care and tasks
- Wandering around and repeated questioning
The Late Stage
As the conditions continue to progress to the late stage, the signs and symptoms become severe enough to the point of total dependence and inactivity. Both physical and mental disturbances continue to become more clear and pervasive. These late-stage symptoms include both intensified cognitive and psychological disturbances:
- Becoming unaware of time and places
- Struggling to recognize family and friends
- Disorientation and confusion
- Having increased difficulty with both visual and spatial abilities
- Having increased difficulty with complex tasks
- Having increased difficulty in reasoning and problem solving
- Having increased difficulty with organizing and planning
- Having increased difficulty with motor functions and coordination
- Improper behavior
- Personality changes
Risks of Dementia
There are many risk factors that contribute to the development of Dementia. These risk factors can be divided into (1) Risk factors that can be changed; (2) Risk factors that can’t be changed.
Factors beyond your control
Age. The more you age, the more your risk of Dementia rises especially past 65. However, this is not to mean that Dementia is a normal part of aging. Dementia can still occur in younger people. Generally, however, the risk of Dementia rises as you age.
Down Syndrome. Most often than not, people with Down Syndrome condition develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease by middle age. This is something that usually comes as a consequence of the condition.
Family History. If you are an individual that has a family history of Dementia, this puts you at greater risk of developing the very condition. However, this is not to say that you can never develop such symptoms if you don’t have a family history of Dementia. There are still people who develop the condition even without having a family history. This just means to say that if you are someone who has a family history of Dementia, you are at greater risk of developing one than those who do not. But it is still possible that you don’t develop Dementia even while having a family history of it.
Factors within your control
Yes, there are factors beyond your control but there are also those within your control. These include the following:
Cardiovascular risk factors. These include having high blood pressure, fat buildup in your artery walls, high cholesterol, and obesity, among others.
Diabetes. Having this condition increases your risk of Dementia when it is poorly controlled and managed.
Diet and exercise. Scientific research and studies have shown that lack of exercise increases the risk of developing Dementia. Studies also suggest that there is a greater incidence of Dementia cases in people with unhealthy diet patterns as compared with those who follow a diet rich in nuts and seeds, produce, and whole grains. However, no specific diet is still known to reduce the risk of developing one.
Depression. Research shows that having late-life depression may initiate the development of Dementia. However, a study on this risk factor is still limited.
Alcohol use. Research shows that drinking large quantities of alcohol might increase your risk of Dementia. Some studies, however, have shown that taking moderate amounts of alcohol must just be what you need to protect you from it, but these results are inconsistent. The relationship between dementia risk and moderate amounts of alcohol is still something that is not further looked into as a study.
Sleep Apnea. People who tend to snore and have episodes of frequent stop breathing while sleeping may be prone to having reversible memory loss.
Smoking. Research shows that smoking may increase your risk of Dementia as well as other blood vessel vascular diseases.
Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. Studies show that low levels of vitamin D, B-6, B-12, and folate are connected with a higher risk of developing Dementia.
Dementia is a condition that affects several bodily systems and their respective ability to function. Therefore, developing Dementia can lead to various complications:
Inability to do self-care tasks. As Dementia progresses from the middle to late stages, most signs become severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. It can interfere with your independent bathing, brushing, dressing, toilet using, and medication taking. The more the signs progress, the more impossible it becomes for you to accomplish these tasks without needing any help.
Challenges to personal safety. Dementia is a condition that involves memory loss. As such, developing this condition poses a challenge to your day-to-day safety situations including cooking, walking, or driving alone.
Poor Nutrition. People with Dementia eventually resort to reducing or stopping eating at all as the condition makes them ultimately unable to chew and swallow. As a consequence, this affects their nutrient intake and overall health.
Pneumonia. Having difficulty in swallowing increases the risk of aspiration food into the lungs. This can be a cause to block your breathing and ultimately lead to pneumonia.
Death. Late-stage Dementia can ultimately result in coma and death oftentimes from infection.
Prevention of Dementia
There is no definite and sure way for the prevention of Dementia. But there are certain steps you can take that might be of help:
Keep your mind and body active. Engage yourself in mentally stimulating activities like solving puzzles, playing word games, reading, and memory training. You can also try to do physical activities and other social interactions. These types of activities have the potential to slow the onset of Dementia and reduce its effects. Aim to do a regular exercise or engage yourself in other mentally-stimulating activities.
Get enough vitamins. Some research suggests that individuals who have low levels of vitamin D in their blood have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of Dementia. Boost your vitamin intake through certain supplements, food, and sun exposure.
Further studies are still needed to officially recommend vitamin D as something that can prevent Dementia. Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to arm yourself with adequate levels of vitamins such as vitamin D, B-complex, and vitamin C.
Quit Smoking. Several studies show that smoking beyond your middle age may increase your risk of developing dementia and other blood vessel vascular conditions. Not only will it reduce your risk. It also improves your overall health.
Get quality sleep. As early as now, it is important to practice and maintain good sleep hygiene. If you snore loudly or gasp during your sleep, it is better to be safe and talk with your doctor about it.
When Do I Have to See a Doctor?
If you see yourself or your loved one having memory problems or other symptoms mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to contact your trusted medical expert. Some medical conditions can trigger or cause dementia symptoms, so it’s important to determine the underlying cause as early as now for early diagnosis and treatment.