What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term (not a specific disease) that describes a group of symptoms which negatively impacts memory severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia with 60-80% of cases, while Vascular Dementia is the second most common dementia type. Nevertheless, there are many other conditions that cause symptoms of dementia. As opposed to Alzheimer’s, some forms of dementia are reversible.  

What are the diffrent types of Dementia?

Alzheimer’s Disease


Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and as yet its exact cause is unknown. During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain, making ‘tangles’ which sever the connection between nerve cells, eventually leading to the death of nerve cells and a loss of brain tissue. Developing Alzheimer’s has no direct link with vascular problems such as suffering a stroke or a heart attack. What is known, is that your risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age. In the early stages of the disease, people might have vision, word finding, and spatial difficulties. It can also cause changes in judgement and reasoning, with people often exercising poor judgement during day to day tasks. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, but drugs such as Donepezil are often prescribed to help alleviate memory problems and improve concentration, making daily tasks and living much easier.




Vascular Dementia


Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. It is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain, often due to a blockage in the veins leading to the brain. Separate conditions that prevent blood flowing to the brain can often lead to vascular dementia, such as a stroke, aneurysm or heart attack. Depriving the brain of oxygen in this way leads to brain damage, which can occur suddenly or over a longer period of time. The way vascular dementia manifests itself can vary depending on which part of the brain is affected, and its severity depends on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen and blood. Common symptoms include difficulty with reasoning and judgement, confusion and memory problems, unsteady gait and difficulty controlling urination/needing to urinate more frequently. There is no way to fully reverse vascular dementia. However, taking medication to control blood pressure and cholesterol and adopting a healthier lifestyle can help repair parts of the brain, preventing future heart attacks or strokes which would worsen the condition.




Dementia with Lew Bodies


Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) accounts for about 10-15% of dementia cases. Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which appear in nerve cells in the brain. The exact cause of the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain is unknown. Lewy Bodies are the cause of both DLB and Parkinson’s Disease, conditions which affect the brain and nervous system and get worse over time. The way someone is affected by DLB will depend partly on where the Lewy bodies are in the brain. If they are present at the base of the brain, they are closely linked to problems with movement (motor symptoms). These are the main feature of Parkinson's disease. Lewy bodies in the outer layers of the brain are linked to problems with mental abilities (cognitive symptoms), which is a feature of DLB. There is no cure for DLB, and due to the wide range of symptoms which present in patients, it is difficult to prescribe drugs as treatment, so it is advised that people with DLB seek advice from a variety of professionals so that they can manage the disease without drugs.




Pakrinson’s Disease Dementia


Parkinson's disease dementia is an impairment in thinking and reasoning that eventually affects many people with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition, meaning that it gets worse over time. The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremors, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness. As Parkinson's brain changes gradually spread, they often begin to affect mental functions, including memory and the ability to pay attention. People with Parkinson’s disease also have a build up of Lewy bodies in their brains, which are the root cause of the condition, as is the case with Dementia with Lewy bodies. Like DLB, Parkinson’s disease dementia affects each individual differently, so there is no catch-all treatment.




Frontotemporal Dementia


Dementia is the general term, or umbrella term, that describes a group of symptoms, for example cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s is a specific and the most common form of dementia: around 60-80% of people who live with dementia live with Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, also issues other than Alzheimer’s can cause dementia. Important to note is that Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and can’t be reversed. Some forms of dementia, such as dementia due to vitamin deficiency or drug abuse can be reversible.




Huntington’s Disease


Huntington’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder which affects your body’s nervous system – the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that coordinate your body’s activities. It is inherited through a faulty gene, and can cause changes with movement, learning, thinking and emotions. Huntington’s disease affects men and women. It usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50, but can start at any age. Currently, there is no cure, however there is a range options available to ease the effects of the disease. For example, it is important to make any adjustments at home, such as the installation of bannisters and rails, to help mobility. Eating well and staying mentally active are also important steps to take to maintain your quality of life; health professionals and resources from your doctor can help you on your way to making these adaptations.




Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease


Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, is a rare degenerative disorder which causes rapid damage to the brain’s tissue. Once this damage starts, it continues at a rapid pace and is fatal. Symptoms of CJD include loss of memory, loss of coordination, changes in personality and slurred speech. Due to the rapid shutdown of the body’s mobility, sufferers are more susceptible to infection and most people diagnosed with CJD die within a year of diagnosis. There is no cure for CJD, and infections which arise as a result of the disease are not treatable, as the disease is caused by infectious proteins called prions, which remain unaffected by radiation and antibiotics. Hence, the rapid progression of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Once diagnosed, it is helpful to devise a treatment plan in the event that the patient cannot make decisions about their care in the late stage.




Mixed Dementia


Mixed Dementia is the name given to the occurrence of two different forms of dementia which are present in the brain simultaneously. For example, it is not uncommon to see people with both Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia present at the same time. The ‘tangles’ of proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s can coexist with the blood vessel changes/blockages associated with Vascular Dementia, and so Mixed Dementia arises. Symptoms can vary depending on which combination of dementia forms the patient has, as well as which parts of the brain are affected. In many cases, symptoms may be similar to (or even indistinguishable from) those of Alzheimer’s. Currently, there aren’t any pharmaceutical drugs available specifically targeted to treating mixed dementia. If Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed among the conditions contributing to a person’s dementia symptoms, a doctor may prescribe the medications intended for Alzheimer’s disease treatment.





What are the Signs or Symptoms of Dementia?

Remember that Dementia is a general term and not a specific disease like Alzheimer’s. Unlike Alzheimer’s, there aren't 10 specific warning signs you should watch out for. Nevertheless, dementia describes a group of symptoms that impacts your memory severe enough to interfere with your daily life.

Memory Loss

Memory Loss more severe than occasionally forgetting an appointment or not knowing where you left your sunglasses.

Sense of time

Increased confusion about day, time, month and increased disorientation. For example, some people who live with dementia might think that they live in a past time of their life, or feel confused about where they are.

Overload

Difficulty with everyday tasks, for example having problems preparing a meal, or making the bed. Plus, managing finances can become an increasing problem for people with dementia.

Judgement

Poor judgement, such as what to wear outside - a person with dementia might enter the outside world still in their pajamas. Also, judging the right distance or direction can also become a challenge for a person with dementia.

Behavior

Behavior Changes and other changes concerning the Personality and Mood. Often, people who live with dementia have significant mood swings, and can become suspicious or confused rapidly.

Language

Language problems can also occur in a more serious way in dementia patients. Of course, all of us sometimes struggle to find the right words, but a person with dementia may forget simple words and can make sentences difficult to understand. 

What do I do if I have been diagnosed with Dementia?

Being diagnosed with a Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can be very emotional. Strong emotions in the first weeks, such as denial, depression, fear, anger, resentment or feeling isolated can be normal. However, if those strong feeling persist, you might deal with an actual depression or anxiety, which can and should be treated.

 

Accepting your diagnosis is key to moving forward. A dementia diagnosis doesn’t mean that you can’t live life to the fullest. To do that, it’s important that you find a healthy way to deal with your emotions and face your diagnosis. It’s important to not isolate yourself, but include yourself in social activities. The following tips may be helpful for you if you have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s:

1.

Surround yourself with a good support system: your family, your friends and maybe even a local Alzheimer’s charity!

3.

Write down your feelings and thoughts about your diagnosis in a journal.

Share your feelings and thoughts with a close friend or family member.

5.

Develop a daily routine and keep track of your goals. Focus on what you can do today and set realistic expectations.

7.

Avoid stress and explain to others that some tasks might not be that easy for you.

2.

Join an early-stage support group - this provides you with a supportive and safe environment of peers.

4.

Make a list of tasks that became more challenging for you and develop a strategy of how to overcome those challenges.

6.

Approach one task at a time and give yourself enough time to complete a task. Don’t pressure yourself! Take a break and try again later if something becomes too difficult

8.

Accept help from others - even if it might feel like a loss of independence, asking for help may help you maintain your independence and stay in control.

Clinical Trials

MindMate works with leading research organizations to find a cure for Dementia and other forms of memory loss. Because there is no cure, joining a clinical trial may be a good option for you. It is very important to understand that when joining a clinical trial, you are not a human “guinea pig” and you may be able to help millions of other patients with the same health condition. There are also many research studies for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. 

 

As you can imagine, there are many things to consider before joining clinical research, this is why we dedicated one single site about clinical trials. You can find more information on clinical trials here. 

Interested in joining a clinical trial in your area? Find out if you qualify!

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