Dementia is a progressive brain condition caused by physical changes in the brain. It causes loss of memory and other brain disorders, and it interferes with one’s quality of life and daily activities. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, but there are many other forms.
Although dementia has no clinically proven method of prevention, living a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk factors associated with it. Dementia gets worse over time, and it has no cure. However, drugs like cholinesterase inhibitors may slow cognitive decline and help with dementia symptoms.
Having an aging parent or a loved one with dementia is never easy. If you need help caring for your elderly loved one, senior care providers can help with everyday tasks making their life better.
Stages of Dementia
Although it progresses differently in everyone, most people with dementia will experience the following symptoms throughout the stages of dementia:
- Mild cognitive impairment – Some people may develop this impairment without ever progressing to dementia. They may experience forgetfulness, short-term memory problems, and trouble recalling words.
- Mild dementia – People with mild dementia may function independently, and they often experience personality changes, short-term memory lapses, and difficulty with complex tasks. Also, they tend to misplace things and may struggle to express emotions.
- Moderate dementia – People with moderate dementia usually need assistance from a care provider or a loved one. Some common symptoms they encounter include poor judgment, increasing confusion and frustration, far-reaching memory loss, and significant personality changes.
- Severe or advanced dementia – The mental and physical symptoms continue to decline even further at this stage of dementia. People with severe dementia need full-time assistance with daily living, they cannot communicate, and have trouble maintaining bodily functions such as walking and eventually swallowing and controlling the bladder.
Types of Dementia:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and it damages the brain, resulting in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association states that as many as 8 out of 10 people diagnosed with dementia specifically have Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s disease can be sporadic or familial. Sporadic Alzheimer’s is very common, and it usually occurs in people over 65 years old. On the other hand, familial Alzheimer’s is a rare genetic condition caused by a gene mutation. If the mutated genes are present, the person will, unfortunately, develop Alzheimer’s disease, usually in their 40’s or 50’s.
The progression rate varies from person to person, but eventually, the disease leads to complete dependence. At present, there’s still no cure, but some drugs can provide temporary improvement in cognitive function for some people with mild to moderate cases.
This disease affects the outer part of the brain first, and as a result, short-term memory loss occurs; it is one of the first symptoms. Unfortunately, as it progresses to deeper parts of the brain, it starts affecting how the brain functions and long-term memory.
Other key signs of dementia senior care professionals typically observe are confusion, depression, emotional unpredictability, taking longer to do everyday activities, inability to process instructions and questions, and eventually trouble with language skills and some muscle control.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD is one of the rarest forms of dementia. It is caused by abnormally shaped proteins called prions building up in the brain and infecting it. The disease is closely associated with Mad Cow Disease in cattle.
It affects about 1 in every million people, and unfortunately, it progresses very quickly. The key symptoms of CJD include confusion, memory loss, depression, behavioral changes, twitching, muscle stiffness, and eventually loss of the ability to move or speak.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is caused by progressive damage to the frontal and temporal lobes. The frontal lobes are responsible for social behavior, mood, judgment, attention, self-control, and planning. The damage to these lobes leads to reduced intellectual abilities and changes in emotion, personality, and behavior.
The temporal lobes have a vital role in processing what we hear and understanding what we hear and see. When these lobes are damaged, difficulty recognizing objects and understanding or expressing language may occur.
The symptoms of Frontotemporal disorders depend on which areas of the brain are damaged. However, this type of dementia usually doesn’t affect memory, especially not in the early stages.
People with Frontotemporal disorders will develop problems with speech and proper behavior. Changes to the personality are common.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited genetic condition linked to a problem with chromosome 4. This disease causes a progressive decline in a person’s memory, thinking, emotional state, and movement.
It usually affects people between 35 and 45 years old, but it can also affect younger and older adults and children. Normally, it is diagnosed when a person starts having problems with controlling their movements.
The common signs of Huntington’s disease include the loss of reasoning skills, severe depression, irritability, apathy, mood swings, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Lewy body dementia is caused by abnormal buildup of clumps of protein (Lewy bodies) inside nerve cells and causing degeneration and death. There’s no cure, but medication can reduce some symptoms.
In many ways, it is similar to Alzheimer’s, and in the past, it was difficult to distinguish these two diseases. It shares many of the same symptoms that home care providers see with Alzheimer’s patients, but there are other issues. People with Lewy body disease experience hallucinations, an unsteady gait or movements, and difficulty sleeping. Also, this disease progresses more quickly compared to Alzheimer’s.
As the name suggests, mixed dementia is a condition in which a person has more than one type of dementia. Typically, it is a combination of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The second most common type is a blend of Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body disease. However, mixed dementia can also occur as a combination of three types of dementia-causing diseases.
Mixed dementia is more common in patients over 75 years old and occurs at one in every ten people with dementia. The symptoms of this condition depend on the types of dementia a person has.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Normal pressure hydrocephalus or NPH occurs when there’s a buildup of fluids within the brain without increasing the pressure in the brain tissue. It usually affects people age 60 or older, and its symptoms usually progress quickly, over a few months. It is unknown what is causing the NPH, but it may develop after recovering from a head injury or brain hemorrhage.
NPH causes dementia-like symptoms including difficulty staying focused, problems with organizing, planning, and memory, increased confusion, loss of bladder control, and difficulty with walking.
Luckily, NPH can be treated with surgery. Although the surgery can treat movement symptoms, it’s not always effective for the symptoms related to memory and thinking. The surgery includes inserting a thin tube into the space where fluid is building up and allowing it to drain into another part of the body, where it can be safely absorbed into the blood.
Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that shares many of the same symptoms as Lewy body disease. People with Parkinson’s experience various physical, psychological, and cognitive symptoms, and they may develop dementia.
Some of the symptoms of this form of dementia include issues with judgment and reasoning, difficulty understanding visual information, irritability, depression, paranoia, and hallucinations.
In the early stages, the symptoms can be so subtle that the condition goes unnoticed for a long time. However, as the disease progresses, a lack of motor skills becomes more apparent, followed by cognitive impairments.
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, and it is associated with a reduced blood supply to the brain. When the brain cells don’t get enough blood supply through the vascular system, they may eventually die.
The death of brain cells can lead to problems with memory, reasoning, and thinking. When these problems are severe enough to affect a person’s daily life, this is known as vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia progresses gradually in a stepwise manner, and people with it are likely to have trouble staying organized, making decisions and plans, and they may struggle with physical functions.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency in the body, and it commonly occurs in long-term heavy drinkers. This risk of dementia can also be linked to diet deficiencies or other conditions that affect the absorption of vitamin B-1.
This syndrome includes two separate conditions – Wernicke’s disease and Korsakoff syndrome, and both can occur simultaneously. Key symptoms of WKS include memory loss, confusion, double vision, loss of muscle coordination, difficulty putting words into context, and exaggerated storytelling.
Dementia Due to Reversible Causes
Some conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms and that can be reversed with proper treatment include:
- Vitamin deficiency – not getting sufficient vitamin B12, B6, B1, and Vitamin E from your diet
- Infections – infections like syphilis, Lyme disease, and HIV-associated dementia
- Endocrine and metabolic conditions – these include Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, hypercalcemia, hypoglycemia, liver problems, exposure to heavy metals, and thyroid issues.
- Subdural hematomas and brain tumors
Family caregivers and home care professionals must have a proper diagnosis of dementia when planning home care for a senior parent. A proper diagnosis of dementia may include a physical exam, reviewing medical history, cognitive tests, brain scans, blood tests, and mental health evaluation.
For each type of dementia, the senior care plan will differ. While some in the early stages of something like Alzheimer’s may simply need medication reminders, others in the end stages need help basic activities of daily living including bathing, remembering to eat, and moving around the house.
If you or an aging loved-one are considering in-home senior care in Maryland, Washington DC or Virginia to help with memory loss issues, please contact the caring staff at Trusted Touch Healthcare today. We make seniors’ lives better! Call today (301) 272-5140.