When you or someone you love has trouble remembering details, it may cause a lot of concern. Many people think they are suffering from Alzheimer’s and this isn’t always the case. Dementia has many different causes and only one of them is Alzheimer’s disease.
Over 4 million people in the U.S suffer from memory loss related to dementia and as people age, these numbers go up. Around 1% of people in the 60 to 64 age group suffer from dementia and over 50% of people over the age of 85. It is the leading reason for nursing home placement.
The good news is dementia can be a temporary condition related to a disease process and may be reversible. Read on to learn more about dementia, what causes it and how it can be treated.
Dementia is the loss of memory and ability to think clearly, solve problems, and even language recall. You may notice very subtle changes in these areas at first, but they eventually become progressive. They can affect your daily life and ability to perform usual tasks like; cooking, cleaning, personal care, and paying your bills. Some people have trouble with driving due to getting lost. Dementia can also cause personality changes and mood swings.
The symptoms of dementia include:
Loss of memory
Trouble speaking and word recall
Getting lost when going familiar places
Impaired coordination and motor skills
Trouble handling complex tasks
Changes in personality
Dementia can be caused by many different things that causes the nerve cells in the brain to become damaged. Some forms of dementia are progressive, but some can actually be reversed if the cause is treated. Here are the causes of dementia:
Alzheimer’s Disease This is the number one cause of dementia. The symptoms usually come on between the ages of 60 and 65. There can be symptoms earlier in some people due to the presence of the Alzheimer’s gene. Alzheimer’s is caused by plaque in the brain. These are made of beta-amyloid proteins and tau protein tangles. These permanently damage the brain and cause progressive decline in memory and cognitive function over a period of about 8 to 10 years.
Vascular Dementia This type of dementia is caused by blockage and less blood flow to the brain cells. This often happens after a stroke, but can also be caused by infected heart valves or other blood vessel diseases. Vascular dementia can happen suddenly when the blood pressure goes up to high in people with history of stroke or heart attack.
Frontotemporal Dementia – Frontotemporal Dementia is caused by damage to the frontal and temporal nerves that control behavior, language, and personality. It comes on between the ages of 50 to 70 years of age. This type causes trouble speaking, trouble thinking, movement disorders, and inappropriate behavior.
Lewy Body Dementia This is a common type of dementia characterized by clumps of proteins in the brain. There are times of very clear thinking alternating with times of confusion and hallucinations. It is also accompanied by “Parkinson’s like” symptoms of tremors and rigid postures. Lewy body dementia also causes a sleep behavior where people act out their dreams during the “rapid eye movement” (REM) stage of sleep.
Huntington’s Disease This disease causes irreversible damage to the nerves in the brain. Dementia due to Huntington’s usually appears between age 30 and 40. Early symptoms include; anxiety and irritable moods. Over time, you lose the ability to think clearly and process thoughts.
Creutzfeldt – Jakob Disease This disease is caused by an abnormal protein in the brain. It is possibly an inherited condition or caused the brain cells being exposed to other disease. It appears in the 60’s and causes issues with memory, thought processes, vision, and muscle coordination. It usually results in people being unable to see, talk, or move and can cause loss of vision. It is most often fatal.
Brain Injury Head trauma can cause dementia, problems with speaking and movement. It can also cause rigid postures and tremors. The symptoms may appear just after the initial injury or years later.
Parkinson’s Disease Parkinson’s disease can cause symptoms of dementia over time.
Dementia that is caused by the following conditions can usually be reversed if the underlying condition is treated successfully. These conditions include:
Dietary Deficiency. A deficiency of B vitamins can cause memory problems and problems thinking clearly. This includes; thiamin (B1), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Deficiencies in these vitamins are usually caused by alcoholism. Temporary dementia can also be caused by dehydration.
Auto-immune Diseases. Flares of auto-immune disorders can cause the immune system to attack the nervous system and brain cells. If the flares are treated properly with anti-inflammatory medications, symptoms of dementia can be reversed. This is very common in multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Infection. Certain infections and high fevers can cause symptoms of dementia. Certain infections attack the brain and nervous system directly including; Lyme disease, encephalitis, and syphilis.
Medication Reactions. A reaction to a new medication can cause dementia symptoms or a drug interaction between two or more medications that you are taking.
Hydrocephalus. If you have a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain, you may experience trouble thinking and memory problems. This can be fixed by shunting the fluid and draining it into another part of the body.
Endocrine Disorders. Thyroid disease can cause problems with memory and cognition. This can happen with too little or too much thyroid hormone. The problem is easily corrected by finding the right hormone balance with medications.
Hypoglycemia. Trouble thinking could be a sign that the blood sugar is too low. This could be serious and progress into loss of consciousness if left untreated. If you find yourself having trouble thinking suddenly along with; anxiety, shakiness, breaking out in sweats you may be having hypoglycemia.
Low Blood Calcium. Many people think calcium is just for the bones. Actually, it is needed for the nervous system and muscles too. Low calcium can cause memory loss and problems with thinking clearly. This can be serious if left untreated. When calcium levels are normalized, clear thinking returns.
Lack of Oxygen. Certain things that drop oxygen levels can cause confusion and trouble thinking. These things include; chronic asthma, carbon monoxide poisoning, or cardiac conditions.
Risk factors for dementia include:
Family History of Dementia
Age over 65
Medical History of Down Syndrome (People with Down Syndrome are more susceptible to plaques that cause Dementia)
High Blood Pressure
Atherosclerosis (Plaque in the arteries)
High Homocysteine (Amino Acids that contribute to vascular dementia)
Many of these risk factors can be avoided with lifestyle changes such as; keeping blood sugars in an acceptable range, quitting smoking, and lowering alcohol intake.
If you are having chronic trouble remembering things, see your doctor for evaluation. If you are younger than 50, your doctor will most likely run some lab tests and check to see if you are having a medication reaction. Some of the lab tests that are run include; thyroid panels, blood sugar, iron, and vitamin B12 levels.
At any age, if the cause cannot be found on lab tests or attributed to medications they will do the following tests:
Cognitive/Neuropsychological Testing Your doctor will check to see how well your thinking processes are working. They test reasoning, judgement, and memory. They also see how well word recall is and if you can hold attention on a subject.
Neurological Testing To check for other things that may be causing dementia, your doctor may want to see how well your reflexes work and if you can keep your balance. They also check to see how well your five senses are working.
Psychiatric Testing You may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist to see if you are suffering from anxiety or depression that can cause mild dementia symptoms.
Brain Scan Doctors can do a brain scan to look for the plaques that show up in some cases of dementia. They can also check for lesions that occur in multiple sclerosis. Other things they check for on scans are; stroke, brain tumor, or bleeding on the brain. A brain tumor is a very rare cause of dementia.
If dementia is due to a reversible cause, the treatment would be to stabilize the underlying condition or replacing nutrients in a deficiency.
In dementia that is progressive and chronic, no cure has been found and of then the progression cannot be stopped. Some medications that are used to relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are helpful in treating dementia. These medications only relieve the symptoms temporarily. Medications include; antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antianxiety medications. Cholinesterase inhibitors may be helpful in raising the levels of acetylcholine that can improve memory and slow progression of dementia, but they have side-effects including; diarrhea, fatigue, and nausea.
Whether progressive or reversible dementia, lifestyle changes can help you cope with memory loss and behavior changes. These include:
Maintain Comfort. Keep the house a comfortable temperature, try not to get too hot or too cold. Prevent excessive hunger, thirst, need to urinate, and fatigue. Use soft lightweight clothing and blankets.
Use Cues and Notes. Use reminders. Get in the habit of writing down appointments, medications time, and use a calendar. Use cues that can help with memory.
Reduce Stimuli. Keep lights and noise low. Avoid crowds and heavy traffic. Try not to take on too much at once.
While natural and alternative remedies have not been proven to be helpful in dementia, some users claim they do relieve symptoms. Always check with your doctor before using alternative medicine. Some remedies include:
Vitamin E Some studies have shown that 400 to 800 i.u daily of vitamin E may help slow the progression of dementia. This is due to the antioxidant properties. Other antioxidants include berries that have dark skin, such as; blueberries.
Omega -3 Fatty Acids These may help dementia and Alzheimer’s by providing the brain with healthy needed fats. Try to eat a few servings of cold water fatty fish every week.
L-Arginine This may help with vascular dementia. It may help increase blood flow to the brain, but can have drug interactions.
Ginkgo Biloba Taking 40 to 50mg up to 3 times daily may help slow the progression of dementia and increase clear thinking. This medication can interact with blood thinners.
There really is no way to prevent progressive dementia, but you can do the following to keep your brain healthy:
Brain Exercise Stimulate your brain with puzzles, word games, and memory games. This can slow onset and slow progression by keep the brain active.
Physical Exercise This helps to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It also helps to lower blood pressure.
Don’t Smoke Smoking damages the blood vessels and quitting smoking can help prevent the onset of dementia.
Eat Healthy Make sure you include plenty of foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids like; salmon, flax, and nuts. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains. Keep proteins lean and drink plenty of fluids.
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