Dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, several diseases cause dementia. The term ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of cognitive impairment, and within the dementia umbrella, there are many different variations.
Dementia is a group of thinking and social symptoms that interferes with daily functioning. Dementia is a group of conditions characterised by impairment of at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and judgement. In Nigeria, there are more than 100,00 cases of dementia per year.
Types of Dementia
There are over 100 types of dementia being researched and treated today. There is dementia resulting from years of alcohol misuse. There is dementia associated with Parkinson’s Disease. There is dementia that is a result of a traumatic brain injury. Of this variety, there are four types of dementia found and treated most commonly. These four are briefly explained below:
1. Alzheimer’s Disease: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is characterized by a gradual decline in memory, thinking, behaviour and social skills. Alzheimer’s causes brain cells to shrink and eventually die and is the result of an abnormal build-up of protein around brain cells.
2. Dementia with Lewy Body: People with Lewy Body experience fluctuating cognition; they have moments or periods of clarity and make complete sense followed by other times of confusion and nonsensical thinking. Lewy Body Dementia causes its victims to be extremely sensitive to anti-psychotic medications which can typically help those with either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
3. Vascular Dementia: Sometimes called “Post Stroke Dementia”, Vascular Dementia is actually brain damage traced to cardiovascular problems or mini-strokes that cause bleeding or harm in the brain. It commonly happens following a stroke. Simply put, Vascular Dementia presents itself mostly through cognitive changes as a result of brain damage. The use of medications has been shown to prevent or slow further brain damage, therefore controlling the progress of Vascular Dementia.
4. Fronto-Temporal Dementia (FTD): This occurs when there is deterioration to the Frontal and Temporal Lobes of the brain. The person experiences problems with language and significant changes in their personality and behaviour. The Temporal lobe affects how one behaves or reacts in the world based on outward input while the Frontal lobe has to do with cognitive and emotional processes, and voluntary movement. When someone has FTD, they slowly withdraw into themselves or may lose inhibitions. They may also lose interest in others around them and their surroundings. Their emotions become empty and there is little to no awareness of the needs of others, and their verbal communication skills become predominantly weak and decrease significantly over time.
Genes play a role in dementia but patterns of inheritance vary. Current research shows that people who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not. Vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia have not yet been linked to genetics in most cases. So out of the four common types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the type with the most likely genetic link based on current research.
Environmental and lifestyle factors also greatly affect our chances of developing a particular disease we may have inherited. Fror this reason, it is important to develop an active, healthy lifestyle to avoid many types of illness.
Dementia requires a medical diagnosis but symptoms include; forgetfulness, memory impairment, falling, sleep disorder, paraphasia, limited social skills and thinking abilities so impaired that it interferes with daily functioning.
Having memory loss alone doesn’t mean that you have dementia. Memory loss has different causes but memory loss is one of the early signs of the condition.
Symptoms include cognitive decline, behavioural changes, changes in mood and other psychological conditions.
Cognitive: mental decline, struggle with visual and spatial abilities, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language, delusions, mental confusion, inability to recognise common things, difficulty handling complex tasks, or difficulty with planning and organising.
Behavioural: irritability, agitation, personality changes, restlessness, repeating questions, tasks and phrases; lack of restraint, or wandering and getting lost.
Mood: anxiety, loneliness, swings, or nervousness.
Psychological: depression, hallucination, anxiety, or paranoia
Muscular: inability to combine muscle movements or unsteady walking
The stages of dementia vary from person to person and the type of dementia. Keeping the four common types of dementia in mind, these seven stages are the usual progression that is experienced:
- No symptoms yet, but tests might reveal a problem
- Very mild changes in behaviour but independence remains
- Mild decline is noticeable (e.g. changes in thinking, forgetting events, and repeating statements)
- Moderate decline (trouble remembering recent events and handling money)
- A moderate to severe decline where they forget names, are unsure what time of day it is, and need some assistance with basic daily tasks
- Severe decline (forgetting their spouse’s name, their personality is changing, and they need help eating and going to the bathroom).
- Very severe decline (unable to walk, can no longer speak their thoughts, and spend the most time in bed).
Dementia can be helped but the condition cannot be cured. It is important to see a doctor if you or a loved one exhibits dementia symptoms. Some treatable medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms, so it’s important to determine the cause. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms might be reversible.