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About Dementia

About Dementia

Dementia is characterized by a loss of cognitive function and a change in behavioral abilities that negatively impact a person’s ability to complete normal daily tasks. Anyone experiencing the symptoms associated with dementia should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible. After reviewing your medical history and evaluating your current symptoms, your doctor will assess your memory impairment, determine difficulties with thinking skills, identify any behavioral changes and judge functional abilities. They may also run tests to rule out other potential causes for your symptoms.

There are many types of dementia, some more common than others. The most common type, making up 60-70% of all dementia cases, is Alzheimer’s disease. Because dementia can affect each person differently, it’s important to gather as much information as possible to gain a better understanding if you, a family member or a friend has been diagnosed.

Rather than being a specific disease, dementia refers to a group of conditions that cause impairment of at least two brain functions such as judgment, language skills, visual perception or memory loss. Although a person may experience some problems and difficulties when the condition is in its early stages, they’re generally still able to function and live independently. In fact, dementia may be present long before it’s actually perceived. As the condition progresses, however, a person eventually must rely completely on others to assist them with the most basic of actions.

People with dementia may experience difficulties in completing daily actions such as following a recipe or remembering where they put things. They may become disoriented and lost, even in their own neighborhood. Although dementia is more common as people get older (half of all people age 85 and older may have some form of dementia), dementia is not the normal process of getting older. If you or a family member experience any of the signs or symptoms associated with dementia, it’s important to get a medical evaluation as soon as possible. It should be noted that some causes of dementia can be reversible and should be treated in a timely manner.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Symptoms develop when healthy nerve cells in the brain stop functioning, lose connections with other nerve cells or die. Although everyone experiences the loss of neurons as they age, the loss experienced with dementia is far greater than normal.

Since the cause or causes of dementia can vary, it’s easy to understand that the symptoms can manifest differently as well. However, there are common symptoms a person should look for that signal the presence of dementia. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Memory loss – often one of the first symptoms of dementia
  • Language and communication difficulties – problems finding the right words during a conversation
  • Behavior changes – acting differently or out of character
  • Sleep disturbances –trouble sleeping, waking frequently through the night
  • Sundowning – symptoms like agitation or confusion at the end of the day
  • Experience mental health issues – increased anxiety and depression
  • Hallucinations – changes in the way they view the world around them

To make a diagnosis, a medical professional looks for two or more functions to be impaired and negatively impacting a person’s life. These include:

  • Memory
  • Communication skills
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Focus and attention
  • Visual perception
  • Disorientation

When a doctor can determine the presence of dementia, but not the specific type, they may refer you to a neurologist for further diagnostics.

 

Treatment & Care of Dementia

Since treatment is based on the type of dementia and its associated symptoms, it can vary from person to person. Treatments may include (but are not limited to):

  • Prescription medications to improve dementia symptoms and to address mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Vitamins to address deficiencies
  • Discontinuance of medications to reduce symptoms that cause or contribute to dementia
  • Occupational therapy to improve independence and decrease disability

 

Types of Dementia

Understanding types of dementia, treatment and causes is important if you or a family member are living with the condition. Below you will learn about three of the most common types of dementia and their differences as you explore supportive care options.

Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is progressive and incurable. Typically, an individual will begin experiencing symptoms after the age of 60. However, the disease is often present long before symptoms are noticeable. Alzheimer’s can take 8 to 10 years to progress to its worst stage. The goal of treatment is to slow this progression.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, difficulty solving problems and completing tasks, trouble with writing and misplacing objects. This form of dementia is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans.

There are three stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • The most common form is late-onset Alzheimer’s which typically occurs after the age of 65.
  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s generally occurs in a person’s 40s and 50s, although cases have been diagnosed for individuals that are much younger. Persons with Down syndrome have a higher risk of this type of Alzheimer’s.
  • Familial Alzheimer’s disease has a definite genetic component. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is generally familial in nature.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. Specifically, this form of dementia occurs when there is inadequate blood flow to the brain. There are a wide variety of conditions that narrow blood vessels, including stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Damage is caused when vessels that are partially or completely blocked restrict the blood flow to the brain, thereby, depriving the brain of oxygen and nutrients.

Unlike Alzheimer’s which develops gradually, vascular dementia can appear suddenly as a result from a stroke and may worsen with each consecutive stroke. Vascular dementia is typically caused by a series of small strokes (infarcts) and is called multi-infarct dementia. If the dementia occurs following one big stroke, the dementia is referred to as post-stroke dementia.

Depending on the part of the brain that is affected, memory may or may not be impacted. Symptoms of vascular dementia include disorientation, vision problems and confusion. Depending on which area of the brain is affected by insufficient blood flow, memory loss may also occur.

Treatment of underlying conditions can slow the progress of vascular dementia; however, once certain brain function is lost, it cannot be recovered.

Learn more about Vascular Dementia
 

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia (LBD), also known as dementia with Lewy Bodies, is caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins, known as Lewy bodies, in the brain’s cortex. Lewy bodies lead to damage in areas of the brain responsible for functioning. Lewy body dementia is a progressive form of dementia, and treatment aims to reduce symptoms.

LBD is a progressive dementia that causes a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent functioning. Symptoms of Lewy body dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s dementia which often results in frequent misdiagnoses; however, the memory of individuals with LBD remains fairly intact. Hallucinations are common early in the disease process, unlike Alzheimer’s when they occur in the later stages of the disease. LBD also shares many symptoms of Parkinson’s dementia such as mobility problems that include shuffling walk, trouble with balance and slow, stiff or shaky movements. However, a person with Lewy body dementia will exhibit dementia symptoms prior to the movement symptoms; whereas, with Parkinson’s disease and its dementia, the order is reversed.

Since the symptoms are similar, and because Lewy bodies are present with Parkinson’s dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it’s believed that a link exists between these three types of dementia.

There are no known risk factors; however, most diagnoses are made after the age of 50 and incidence is higher for males.

Mixed Dementia

As the name implies, a person with mixed dementia has abnormalities linked to more than one kind of dementia. The most common form of mixed dementia is a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s disease combined with Lewy body dementia is the second most common combination. Some individuals show characteristics of all three dementia — Alzheimer’s, vascular and Lewy body dementia.

Symptoms vary widely from person to person. Due to the overlap of symptoms, researchers are unsure just how many people have mixed dementia. However, autopsy results suggest it to be more common than previously thought.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is an umbrella term for a wide range of rare brain disorders caused by the destruction of large areas of nerves at the front (frontal lobe) and sides (temporal lobes) of the brain. Pick’s disease, caused by a buildup of abnormal deposits of a tau protein (called Pick’s bodies), is the most common FTD disorder.

Frontotemporal dementia causes multiple cognitive symptoms including memory loss, speech difficulties, personality changes and inappropriate behavior.

There are similarities between Alzheimer’s and FTD. They differ, however, in the age of onset. FTD typically begins between the ages of 40 and 45; whereas, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms generally begin after the age of 65. Some rare forms of the disorder also exhibit mobility problems like those seen with Parkinson’s disease.

FTD gradually worsens over time, but the speed of decline varies between individuals. The only known risk factors are in having a familial history or the presence of a similar illness.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), more popularly known as “mad cow disease,” is caused when an infectious protein (called a prion) causes many sponge-like lesions to form throughout the brain. Although it shares many of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease symptoms cause rapid deterioration, over a few months rather than the decades it takes Alzheimer’s disease to do the same damage.  It also shares some of the involuntary muscle movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

There are three forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease:

  • Ninety percent of all cases are Sporadic CJD which has no known cause. It generally appears spontaneously between 60-65 years of age.
  • Ten percent of all cases are Familial CJD, having a genetic component and appearing at a younger age, as early as 20 years old.
  • Very rare cases are Acquired CJD, caused by exposure to the “mad cow” organism either through contamination of surgical instruments (typically from an organ donor) or the consumption of meat from an animal who had the disease.

Parkinson’s Dementia

Fifty to eighty percent of patients with Parkinson’s disease will develop its associated dementia. Typical Parkinson’s disease symptoms develop early in the disease process with dementia developing in the later stages, approximately ten years later.

Parkinson’s dementia doesn’t typically impact language skills, but does cause a deterioration in memory, thinking and reasoning. Lewy bodies are present in the brain and brainstem, and its symptoms are similar to those exhibited by Lewy body dementia patients. The changes that occur in the brain cause researchers to believe there may be a relationship between Parkinson’s dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

Huntington’s Dementia

Huntington’s dementia occurs in association with Huntington’s disease which has a genetic component. The early stages of Huntington’s disease are characterized by uncontrolled body movements. It’s during the later stages of the disease that a person begins to experience a gradual deterioration of memory and thinking skills, along with changes in behavior and mood. Obsessive-compulsive behavior can also be a common symptom.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caused by the lack of thiamine (Vitamin B1). The deficiency may be caused by dietary deficiencies, eating disorders, prolonged vomiting, the effects of chemotherapy or alcohol abuse.

Korsakoff Syndrome is the memory disorder that results from thiamine deficiency and is generally related to alcoholism.

Wernicke’s and Korsakoff’s are related disorders. Some medical researchers believe them to be different stages of the same disorder, thereby, referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome with Wernicke’s being the acute stage and Korsakoff the chronic stage.

If treatment begins early enough, some, if not all, of the symptoms associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff can be reversed.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) occurs when excessive cerebrospinal fluid gets trapped in the brain instead of flowing through the brain and into the spinal column, thereby, putting extra pressure on the brain. NPH causes reasoning and thinking difficulties and overall slowed thought processes, as well as, reduced concentration, impaired decision-making, apathy and changes in personality and behavior.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus generally occurs in individuals who are between 60 and 70 years old. Symptoms are often similar to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The effects of some symptoms may be reversed if treatment is received soon enough to make a difference.

Posterior cortical atrophy

Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), sometimes referred to as Benson’s syndrome, may be a variation of Alzheimer’s disease. Initially, PCA causes difficulties in the processing of visual information. With time, it may progress to affect memory and other cognitive functions. The onset of PCA generally occurs between the ages of 50 and 65 years of age.

PCA frequently has plaques and tangles similar to Alzheimer’s disease. For some, the brain changes resemble a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Lewy body dementia.

 

At Tessera of Westchase, we pride ourselves on providing superior care for individuals with dementia-related impairments. That’s why we specialize in memory care, offer specialized memory care programs and provide residents a comfortable and safe environment. Contact us to learn more about our Westchase memory care community in Tampa, FL, or to schedule a tour.

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