Dementia is a major neurocognitive disorder characterized by memory, decision-making, logical thinking, and social abilities. These changes are severe enough to interfere with the patient’s daily activities and occupational functioning.
Memory loss is often one of the earliest signs of Dementia. There are several causes of dementia attributed to the damage to the parts of the brain responsible for decision making, language learning, and memory.
According to statistics, around 5%-8% of people over 65 years of age suffer from some form of dementia. Almost half of the population above 80 have some dementia.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia. Depending upon the cause, some Dementia symptoms are reversible and improve with treatment, but many diseases which cause dementia aren’t treatable.
Dementia can be split into two groups.
Cortical Dementias: The cause of cortical dementia is damage to the cerebral cortex, the outer region of the brain that plays a critical role in memory and language processing leading to severe memory loss and loss of the ability to understand language. Examples include Alzheimer's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Subcortical Dementias: It is caused by damage in the parts of the brain beneath the cortex. Forgetfulness and language problems are not a feature of subcortical dementia; instead, the ability to start activities and thinking speed. This type is caused by Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and HIV.
There are some types of dementia that affect both parts of the brain. For example, Lewy Body dementia is both cortical and subcortical, characterized by abnormal balloon-like protein clumps in the brain. Common signs and symptoms include visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there), difficulty in focusing and attention.
The most common causes of dementia include:
Degenerative Neurological Diseases
The disorders that cause damage to the blood vessels supplying the brain also result in dementia.
This includes traumatic brain injuries like automobile accidents, falls, concussions, central nervous system infections (e.g., meningitis, HIV, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), long-term drug or alcohol abuse, and fluid build-up in the brain like in certain types of hydrocephalus.
Reversible Causes of Dementia
These include the causes that can be reversed with treatment. They include:
Risk factors that can't be changed:
1. Age: Age is a significant risk factor. Many people above 65 years start to experience some form of dementia. But it can be found in young people also.
2. Family history: A positive family history of dementia puts you at greater risk of developing the condition. People with a family history may never develop symptoms, and many people without a family history do. Genetic mutations responsible for the development of dementia can be determined with tests.
3. Down syndrome: it is mainly found in people with downs syndrome by middle-age.
Modifiable risk factors:
Signs to watch for:
Diagnosis of dementia and determining the type is challenging. The cause of dementia must be recognized by the pattern of loss of skills and function. With the help of available Biomarkers, a more accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be made.
No single test can diagnose dementia; several tests are performed to pinpoint the problem. Medical history and symptoms followed by a physical examination are also very important.
Cognitive and Neuropsychological Tests: are performed to evaluate your memory, problem-solving, orientation, visual perception, attention, movement, reasoning, sense of judgment, language skills, and engagement.
Imaging: PET scans, CT or MRI scans of the brain can check for evidence of stroke, bleeding, tumor or hydrocephalus.
Vitamin B-12 levels, Thyroid levels
Spinal fluid test for infections, inflammations, or markers of degenerative changes.
Psychiatric evaluation: A psychiatrist can detect the presence of depression or any other psychiatric illness as a cause of your symptoms.
Most types of dementia can't be cured. Treatment aims to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
The prognosis of dementia is variable. Some people may live longer, while others live for ten years after diagnosis. Patients need great care. The family members need to be well aware of the symptoms and act accordingly to prevent complications. If not treated well, the prognosis is poor.
To cope with the disease, the following lifestyle changes must be adopted,
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 16, 2023.
What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission - The Lancet