Just a couple of decades ago, no one would have believed that Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease would emerge as the leading cause of mortality in some nations like the UK.
Yet, in some months, more people die of dementia than a heart attack in the UK.
This brain issue is also among the leading cause of death in the US. The incidence of the condition is on a significant rise in every part of the world.
With every passing year, science is learning more about dementia. It is now known that its risk can be minimized through lifestyle interventions, dietary changes, and intake of certain nutrients and bioactive compounds.
What is dementia?
Dementia occurs due to the progressive loss or death of brain cells, causing memory loss and confusion.
It reduces the ability to think and comprehend and causes difficulty in understanding others.
Dementia is an umbrella term for health disorders that produce similar symptoms. In addition, it causes significant cognitive decline, resulting in a substantial disability.
One of the issues with dementia is that, in most cases, it develops slowly over the years. This means that dementia is often diagnosed quite late. However, changes in the brain start happening years or even decades before the diagnosis.
It appears that the human brain is quite a robust and resilient structure. Thus, it is able to compensate for some early brain changes caused by Alzheimer’s or other disorders.
However, as the condition progresses, the brain finds it increasingly difficult to compensate for the progressive loss of brain cells, and symptoms start occurring.
Therefore, researchers say that the only way to protect the brain and prevent dementia is through early efforts. Those in a high-risk group, like those with a family history of dementia, must take particular care.
People must make lifestyle changes and start taking health supplements before dementia occurs. Regretfully, many people begin taking measures too late when many neurons have been lost irreversibly.
How common is dementia?
WHO estimates that there are about 55 million people living with dementia. Dementia is now among the top 10 causes of death in the US. There are more than seven million people living with dementia in the US alone.
Dementia is also common in the UK, and in some months during the year, like in June 2022, it was the number one cause of death in the UK. The picture is similarly disheartening in the rest of Europe.
Early signs of dementia
Some very early signs of dementia include:
- A decline in the physical activity level of a person. This is particularly noticeable in individuals who have been active throughout their lives.
- Complain of increased fatigue and mood issues.
- A person may readily get irritated and disoriented.
- A person starts forgetting smaller things and also struggle to make decisions.
However, as the condition progresses and brain damage becomes severe, some signs and symptoms become quite evident, like a person frequently forgetting things, losing valuable items, failing to remember important dates, and having difficulty recalling important past experiences.
A person may start giving repeated questions due to issues in understanding things and decline in short-term and long-term memory.
Some may experience more severe personality changes, hallucinations, delusions, readily start losing balance, and more.
Dementia stages and their symptoms
Before talking about the stages of dementia, it is worth considering two crucial things. Firstly, dementia starts much earlier than the date of diagnosis. Secondly, in most cases, it would be family and friends to notice specific changes suggesting dementia in a person.
There are three dementia stages (not counting the pre-clinical stage), depending on the disease severity.
Remember that this staging is primarily based on symptoms, not some lab tests. Thus, staging dementia is quite challenging.
Mild or early-stage dementia
In this stage, the person is able to live independently and requires minimal care. However, one can still see changes in the person’s memory.
Some common issues seen at this stage are:
- Difficulty recalling some common words
- Problems remembering the names of new people
- Difficulty performing specific tasks in social settings
- Quickly forgetting things
- Often misplacing and forgetting valuable items
- Trouble planning and organizing things
Moderate or middle-state dementia
This is the longest stage, often lasting for years. At this stage, a person would require some care as they may readily get confused, irritated, and behave unexpectedly.
Some signs and symptoms of this stage are:
- Forgetting personal events and important dates
- Feeling irritated and moody in mentally challenging situations
- Difficulty in recalling even important past events like a year of graduation
- Certain physical signs like trouble controlling bowel and bladder
- Changes in sleep patterns and restlessness
- Demonstrating personality changes
Severe or late-stage dementia
At this stage, symptoms are quite extreme. It is the stage of severe disability, and it even affects movements.
Though a person may still utter words, communication becomes increasingly difficult. Memory and mental abilities are highly compromised. A person at this stage requires extensive care.
Some signs and symptoms of this stage are:
- Around-the-clock and daily care required
- Loss of environmental awareness
- Issues communicating
- Inability to walk properly, still, and even issues swallowing
- The person becomes prone to infections, particularly pneumonia
Types of dementia
Dementia is a syndrome that occurs due to many diseases. Thus, it is an umbrella term used to describe multiple ailments, including Alzheimer’s.
Below are some common causes of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s disease: It is the number one cause of dementia, and the term Alzheimer’s has almost become synonymous with dementia. Nonetheless, it is vital to understand that in any population group, about 60-80% of dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s. It is a condition caused by an accumulation of faulty proteins causing the death of brain cells. These faulty proteins are amyloid and tau proteins.
- Vascular dementia: As the name suggests, it is mainly due to vascular issues causing the reduced blood supply to the brain and, thus, progressive loss of cognition. It may occur secondary to stroke. It may also occur due to atherosclerosis. Its symptoms may depend on the brain area affected.
- Lewy body dementia: It is the third most common cause of dementia. Though it shares many traits with Alzheimer’s, it occurs due to the accumulation of Lewy bodies.
- Parkinson’s disease dementia: Parkinson’s is mainly a movement disorder, but it is still a neurodegenerative disorder that also causes cognitive decline or dementia, especially in its advanced stages.
- Other-cause dementia: there are many other rare kinds of dementia like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), mixed dementia, dementia due to traumatic brain injury, and so on.
Causes and risk factors
There could be many causes of dementia. However, it is worth understanding that science still does not fully understand what causes some common types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s.
Nonetheless, below are some of the causes and risk factors:
Family history or genetics
It appears that dementia runs in families. Thus, some people are genetically prone to the disorder.
For example, a gene called apolipoprotein E4 (APOE) significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Hence, if one family member has dementia, it is a risk factor.
Vascular dementia is the second most common dementia, and as its name suggests, it occurs due to vascular disorders.
Thus, for example, post-stroke dementia is an example of vascular dementia. Quite often, age-related dementia is due to the worsening of vascular health.
Proteinopathies or accumulation of faulty proteins
It is the number one cause of dementia. Accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins causes Alzheimer’s disease.
Similarly, Lewy body accumulation causes Lewy dementia. However, science still does not understand why these faulty proteins begin to accumulate in some people.
Individuals older than 65 years are at an increased risk.
Conditions like hypertension, diabetes, lack of exercise, dyslipidemia, and obesity are all known to be associated with higher dementia risk.
Air pollution has been associated with significantly higher dementia risk. Thus, for example, dementia rates are higher among those living near highways or in some industrial areas.
Traumatic brain injury may also significantly increase dementia risk.
People are now taking more medications than ever before. It appears that some drugs like sleep aids and some other medicines may increase dementia’s risk.
Sleep and mood disorders
These issues are also associated with higher dementia risk.
Before we dive deeper into the subject, it is worth understanding that there is no reliable lab test for early diagnosis of the condition.
Lab tests may show vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid issues, and changes in inflammatory markers. However, these changes may occur in many other health issues.
When it comes to brain scans, doctors would often use CT or MRI, which may help diagnose the condition, especially in its advanced stages.
Similarly, PET scans can demonstrate changes in brain volume, a pattern characteristic of amyloid and tau protein accumulation.
Thus, brain scans can be pretty helpful in most cases but not essentially in all cases. Brain scans might miss the diagnosis in the early stages of dementia when symptoms are still mild.
Along with lab tests and brain scans, doctors pay special attention to history taking, which may help diagnose dementia in the early stages, even when lab tests might fail.
Thus, doctors would ask various questions to someone who knows the patient well. They would also carry out tests measuring the patient’s mental abilities to confirm the diagnosis.
When it comes to dementia treatment, there are very few medications that may slow down its progress.
Drugs like cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, rivastigmine) may boost levels of neurotransmitters and delay the progress of the disease.
Doctors may also prescribe memantine, known to increase glutamate activity and thus help with dementia symptoms.
Doctors may also use other drugs that may help improve vascular health, overcome insulin resistance, enhance vascular health, and boost brain metabolism.
However, there are no guarantees that these medications may help significantly.
Recently, the FDA has approved a drug for dementia treatment called aducanumab (Aduhelm) which may help slow down Alzheimer’s progress.
It works by reducing the accumulation of amyloid plaques. But unfortunately, it can only slow down dementia’s progress in some instances, but not cure it.
How to prevent dementia
Since dementia cannot be cured, the focus must be on its prevention. Everyone must understand how to prevent dementia.
High-risk individuals should pay particular focus to preventive measures. However, all middle-aged and older individuals must use various preventive measures.
Preventive measures only work if initiated before the beginning of dementia. So, do not wait for dementia symptoms to occur; make lifestyle changes early.
Hence, some of the measures include making lifestyle and dietary changes. Living away from polluted areas like highways may also help.
When it comes to diet, it is worth considering omega-3 supplements, increasing intake of various natural supplements good for brain health, adaptogens, and antioxidants.
Additionally, engaging in mental tasks may also help prevent cognitive decline. Thus, stay mentally active by reading and doing smaller tasks that require much mental engagement.
In addition, keep learning new skills, start practicing new hobbies, and more. Further, socializing may also help reduce the risk of dementia.
It is also good to keep refreshing older memories by watching images and family videos. Other useful ways to lower your dementia risk include massage therapy, aromatherapy, listening to music, art therapy, and more.
Ben’s Mind & Memory
Mind & Memory is designed to help prevent cognitive decline, boost working memory, improve focus and concentration, and reverse the effects of brain fog.
There are vital things to keep in mind about dementia. It is an umbrella term used to describe various ailments causing similar kinds of symptoms, mainly cognitive and memory decline. Thus, dementia is a syndrome caused by many diseases.
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, responsible for most dementia cases. However, there are other causes, like vascular disorders.
So, when someone talks about Alzheimer’s vs dementia, it is vital to understand that Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia.
Dementia is a progressive disorder that is challenging to diagnose in its early stages and highly challenging to treat.
Nevertheless, doctors can identify it in its early stages. They would often classify it as mild, moderate, or severe. Though dementia may not be possible to cure, one can slow down its progress.
Additionally, it might also be possible to prevent it through timely measures like lifestyle interventions, using brain supplements, and more.
However, remember that any effort to prevent or manage dementia must continue for a long. Thus, brain supplements would only help when used regularly for months or years.