In order to be able to properly recognize the signs of dementia, it is necessary to first understand what dementia is and what it isn’t. As per the official definition, dementia is a condition rather than being a disease, which can be identified and classified as a group of neurodegenerative symptoms that indicate cognitive damage. It is often classified as a symptom itself, since dementia can indicate a series of underlying causes which are the actual diseases/conditions responsible for dementia.
The symptoms that come under the umbrella term dementia can include memory loss, failure to recall, gradual/sudden loss of basic/advanced cognitive abilities such as speech, writing skills, comprehension skills and spatial disorientation among several others. These are not the only signs of dementia of course, but we will get to some others to look out for in the next section.
What Are the Signs of Dementia?
Irrespective of the cause, signs of dementia can include some or all of the following cognitive and behavioral signs:
- Loss of memory and the ability to recall/recognize events, people, names, faces, etc.
- Loss of communicative abilities, including the ability to understand others
- Spatial disorientation
- Increasing difficulty with problem solving, reasoning and complex tasks
- Increasing difficulties with time management, task-planning and overall organization
- Gradually degrading motor functions and sense of balance
- Poor coordination
- General disorientation and confusion
- Noticeable changes in personality and behavior
- Irritability and growing aggression
- Depression, anxiety and paranoia
- Uncharacteristically inappropriate behavior
If one of your parents or a senior relative has started showing signs of dementia, you need to understand that this is not a condition that can be managed in most homes, especially after it reaches an advanced stage. In this situation, you might want to consider assisted living from a service like Brandywine Senior Living.
Look for a service provider whose care standards are in line with the Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Practice Recommendations, so that you can rest assured about your beloved parent’s/relative’s wellbeing. Even for seniors without any specific neurodegenerative disorders, assisted living facilities can prove beneficial to a person’s wellbeing.
What Are the Causes of Dementia?
Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s is not the only disease that leads to neurodegenerative dementia, although it is the more common culprit. In fact, neurodegenerative or genetically inherited diseases are not the only reasons which have been found to be responsible for people suffering from signs of dementia. The highlighted conditions next should be sufficient in providing a proper understanding of the multiple reasons that can lead to the symptoms associated with dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a mostly inherited, genetic disease that causes gradual and irreparable brain damage. The neurons are permanently damaged as beta-amyloid proteins (brain plaque) and tau proteins (tangles) simultaneously begin to accumulate on the patient’s brain beyond recovery. There is no cure, but it might be possible to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s Disease with proper precautions and post detection medical care.
Vascular Impairment Induced Brain Damage, aka Cerebral Strokes
There are several reasons behind a stroke, one of which includes traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, they are all unified by the fact that vascular impairment is caused in a way that it ends up blocking or cutting off blood supply to any one or multiple sections of the brain.
The results can be quite similar to what we see with Alzheimer’s patients, but unlike dementia arising from Alzheimer’s, the damage may not be permanent or gradually degenerative. It could also be limited to only the section or sections of the brain affected by a vascular impairment. For example, someone who lost advanced, acquired skills after a stroke may very well be able to gain them back again in due time with proper physical therapy, medication and medical supervision.
Parkinson’s disease is identified by three primary symptoms, of which only two must be present for the diagnosis to be confirmed by an adequately qualified physician:
- Bradykinesia or slower than usual movements
- Involuntary rigidity of muscles
- Tremors or shakes even when the patient is in a state of rest or sleep
Unfortunately, not much has yet been discovered or linked to being a known cause for Parkinson’s disease, although signs of dementia as seen in Alzheimer’s patients are also seen here. Even then, an insufficient number of cases were found to be consistent with vascular impairment of the brain (strokes) and head injuries. Similar to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is yet to meet a cure.
The only disease on this list to have dementia in its nomenclature is frontotemporal dementia. However, it is a term that designates a collection of neurodegenerative diseases and not just one disease.
Clustered together as FLTDs, all of them are responsible for causing dementia in patients. Similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, FLTDs are incurable conditions as well, although FLTDs are more closely related to Alzheimer’s than they are to Parkinson’s. They too are inherent genetic conditions with tau protein being identified as the main neuron damaging protein in FLTDs.
Dementia is a highly feared symptom because most diseases that give rise to it are fatal and/or incurable. Huntington’s disease is not an exception to that rule either, and this particular inherited condition has the worst effects on a patient. Aside from dementia, someone with Huntington’s will also display most, if not all symptoms an effects attributed to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
If one parent has Huntington’s, then the chances of their offspring developing Huntington’s Disease are 1 in 2 or 50%. The disease only begins to unfold later on in the patient’s life (30 – 50), and advanced diagnosis is possible. This should provide the patient with time to device an appropriate coping mechanism for management.
Perhaps the rarest cause for dementia on this list is the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which is also a likely result of protein deposition (prion) onto the brain. Similar to Alzheimer’s in effect, there is no known cause for the genetic defect, except inheritance.
A traumatic brain injury or a repetitive brain injury (full contact sports professionals are at high risk) can trigger and/or cause a whole range of neurodegenerative conditions and diseases that can lead to dementia. There is no way to tell for sure what TBI can or cannot cause, and most symptoms usually manifest much later on in a person’s life. A TBI alone can lead to temporary or permanent dementia as well, even if it does not trigger a new condition.