For many years people believed that natural aging meant our mental capacity shrank until we reached the stage of ‘senility,’ an eventuality for everyone if you lived long enough. Thank goodness, we know better than that today.
What we know now:
- Dementia is not the natural result of aging
- Dementia is caused by specific, identifiable diseases
- Diagnosis is important to identify the dementia’s that are treatable
- A proper evaluation is needed for management of the diseases that aren’t curable
CAUSES OF DEMENTIA: The list of diseases than can cause dementia is long, including: Metabolic disorders, Structural problems of the brain, Infections, Toxins, Autoimmune diseases, Psychiatric disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, Alcohol abuse, and others.
SYMPTOMS OF DEMENTIA:
Usually dementia indicates a decline of intellectual ability severe enough to interfere with daily functions of a person who is awake and alert. This can mean a loss of ability in the areas of; math, vocabulary, abstract thinking, judgment, speaking and physical coordination.
Dementia can be caused by many diseases, some are curable but some are not. That’s why it is so important to have any memory-loss issues evaluated by your physician.
In this article I will only be discussing the major causes of Dementia today:
- Alzheimer disease
- Huntington disease
- Lewy Body dementia
- Parkinson disease
- Frontotemporal dementia, including Pick disease
- Vascular (blood vessel) disease
- Binswanger disease
Most Research indicates Dementia is caused by:
50-60% caused by Alzheimer disease
10% caused by Multi-infarct disease
10% caused by combination Multi-infarct/Alzheimer disease
5-10% caused by Lewy Body Dementia
5% caused by Frontotemporal Dementias
10% caused by a combination of the remaining causes listed above
The symptoms of Alzheimer disease usually appear gradually and over an extended period of time. Early in this disease only memory may be affected, but gradually intellect and physical decline occurs.
Later, impairment in both language and motor skills is seen. The visible signs are many; the patient may have trouble understanding explanations, give up reading or watching television, increasing difficulty doings tasks that were once easy, get lost easily, forget how to turn on the stove, show poor judgment. They may also have changes in personality with outbursts of anger.
This disease is slowly but relentlessly progressive. Late in the disease the person becomes severely impaired, incontinent, unable to walk and have their vocabulary reduced to one to two words.
Lewy Body Dementia
The symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia is similar to Alzheimer disease but is usually accompanied by mild symptoms of Parkinson disease early in the course of the illness. Common symptoms for this type of dementia are stiffness, slowness, and poor balance. One urgent reason to have a diagnosis for Lewy Body dementia is that people with this illness experience adverse side effects from neuroleptic medications. These medicines should be avoided. Depression is also common in Lewy Body dementia.
Multi-Infarct or Vascular Dementia
In the past, dementing illnesses were thought to be caused by “old age,” or “hardening of the arteries.” Now, we know this is not true. In multi-infarct dementia, repeated strokes destroy small areas of the brain. The accumulative effect of the damage from these repeated, small strokes leads to dementia.
Multi-infarct dementia’s progress in a step-like way. Instead of the gradual decline as with Alzheimer disease, they have plateaus without symptoms, then drop-offs to a new stage. Sometimes the cause of these repeated strokes can be found and treated. In this case the repeated damage can be prevented.
Some people have both, Multi-infarct disease and Alzheimer disease.
Binswanger Disease (also called Leukoariosis)
This is an uncommon vascular dementia. It can be identified on an MRI or CT scan and at autopsy. It is thought to be caused by sustained high blood pressure. This diagnosis has been given more often as more MRI scans become readily available. Currently, controlling high blood pressure is the only treatment available for this dementia, and it is not known if this also slows the progression of the disease.
There are other illnesses that cause symptoms of dementia as well, though there numbers are small. Still, it implores us to have any symptoms of memory-loss or change in personality evaluated by a family physician. As we learned from the causes of Dementia, there are treatments available for a few. In some instances the progression may be slowed or stopped altogether with early diagnosis.