A child helping a woman dealing with dementia to join the pieces of a puzzle.

Artwork by Rohan Francis

A child helping a woman dealing with dementia to join the pieces of a puzzle.

An Overview on Dementia - Causes, Symptoms, and Care

Medically reviewed by

Written by Kriti Dugar

Dementia can be used to describe a group of symptoms that results in the loss of cognitive functioning like thinking, comprehension, language, and judgment. Often the disorder interferes with a person's daily life and activities. It has physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia but also for their families and loved ones. 

Today, more than 55 million people are living with dementia and as per the World Health Organization, trends reveal that there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Of these, over 60% live in low and middle-income countries. Unfortunately, this number is expected to rise up to 78 million in 2030. 

Not surprisingly, dementia is the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases. It is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. However, despite its prevalence, there is a lack of awareness about the mental health disorder, resulting in stigmatization and treatment barriers. 

If you or your loved ones have dementia, then know that you are not alone. You can connect with mental health professionals at Cadabam’s Hospitals. You could call our 24/7 helpline number 9741476476 to know more about treatment options available near you

Signs and symptoms of Dementia

Dementia can affect each person in a different way. Dementia symptoms start to show when previously healthy neurons in the brain stop working. They may lose connections with other brain cells, and eventually, die. With age, everyone loses some neurons, however, people facing dementia experience a far greater loss. The symptoms of dementia vary and may include:

Subtle changes in the short-term memory 

The trouble with memory can be one of the early signs of dementia. A person suffering from dementia may be able to remember events from long ago, but not what they had for lunch. Other symptoms include forgetting why they entered a particular room or struggling to remember what they were supposed to do. One may also experience poor judgment or confusion.  

Difficulty in communication

One of the early symptoms of dementia is struggling to communicate one’s thoughts and feelings. They may have difficulty explaining something or finding the right words to express themselves. Hence, there might be unusual words to refer to familiar objects. Holding a conversation with a person who has dementia can be difficult, and it may take longer than usual to conclude.

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Changes in mood

A change in mood is also commonly associated with dementia. Depression, anxiety, or paranoia can typically be seen in dementia. Apathy, or listlessness, commonly occurs in dementia. A person facing dementia may lose interest in hobbies or activities. They may often stop spending time with friends and family, and they may seem emotionally unavailable or inexpressive. 

Failing sense of direction

With the onset of dementia, there is a subtle shift in the ability to complete tasks like traveling. One may not recognize once-familiar landmarks and forget directions. It may become more difficult to follow a series of directions or even step-by-step instructions. They may also experience difficulty in coordination and motor functions. 

Being repetitive

Repetition is common in dementia since cognitive functions like remembering and thinking are lost. The person may unknowingly repeat daily tasks, such as brushing, or they may even begin to hoard items obsessively. Often, they repeat the same questions in a conversation after they’ve been answered.

Causes and Types of Dementia

Dementia is caused by the loss of or damage to nerve cells in the brain. Depending on the stage of dementia or the area of the brain that's damaged; it can affect people differently. Simply put, the brain has different regions, each of which is responsible for different functions, and the region that gets damaged affects the functionality of the individual. 

The 5 types of dementia include:

Alzheimer's disease 

This is known as the most common cause of dementia. It is related to the mutations of three genes, which can often be intergenerational. Although several genes are involved in Alzheimer's disease, apolipoprotein E4 (APOE) increases the risk of being diagnosed with the disorder.

Vascular dementia 

This is caused by damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain. Problems in the blood vessel can cause heart strokes or even affect the brain by damaging the fibers present in the white matter. 

Lewy body dementia 

Abnormal balloon-like clumps of protein have been found in the brains of people with Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, which is known as one of the more common types of progressive dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia 

This is characterized by the breakdown of nerve cells and their connections in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. They may affect the personality, behavior, and language of the individual. 

Mixed dementia 

A few studies have indicated that dementia is a combination of several causes, such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

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Managing Dementia

Dementia can be hard to prevent since its exact causes are unknown. However, there are a few things that one can keep in mind to help in care for dementia:

  1. Be physically active - High blood pressure and blood sugar have harmful effects on the heart and brain and also increase the chances of dementia. It would be best if you stayed physically active since it can delay the onset and the symptoms of dementia. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercising, reducing alcohol, and quitting smoking, reduce the risk of dementia.
  2. Stay mentally active - Lots of activities can help keep your mind active. These include reading, playing board games, crafting or taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, working or volunteering, and socializing.
  3. Stay connected with family and friends - Humans are social beings. Hence, it is necessary to stay connected with people and engage in social activities to prevent loneliness, which is linked to higher risks for cognitive decline.  
  4. Sleep well - Sleeping well is vital for both your body and mind You should try to get six to eight hours of sleep every night since it can improve cognitive and physical functioning.

Key Takeaway :

Dementia can be a challenging mental health disorder to live with, however, do not lose hope. Seek professional mental help for the correct diagnosis and treatment plans to reduce the impact of the mental health disorder on your life. The journey towards a healthier life is entirely possible as long as you are willing to walk it.

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