As we age, it may be more challenging to learn new things, remember things more quickly than we formerly did, and misplace things. Frustrating as it may be, memory lapses very seldom warrant serious worry. Memory decline is a normal part of the aging process.
However, memory loss as we age is not the same as Dementia. There is still a great deal about dementia, of which we are unaware. Dementia is only one of the top 10 causes of mortality in the United States, for which there is currently no treatment or cure. Nevertheless, we should look at the bright side; there is plenty that we do know about the condition. This article will discuss the causes, early warning signs, and treatments for some of its symptoms.
What is Dementia?
Dementia, by definition, is a chronic or persistent behavior abnormality due to brain disease. It is characterized by a decline in cognitive capacity and distinct changes in one’s temperament, feelings, and attitude. As a result of damage to the regions of the brain responsible for cognition (learning, memory, decision-making, and language), performing routine tasks becomes difficult or impossible.
Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Once-healthy brain neurons (nerve cells) become damaged, lose connections to other brain cells, and finally break, leading to the symptoms of dementia. Even though neuron loss occurs in everyone as they age, those with dementia suffer from a far more significant decline.
Dementia is linked to cell death in specific brain parts, depending on the kind. In Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, abnormally high concentrations of particular proteins both within and outside of brain cells interfere with the ability of brain cells to maintain their health and interact with one another. Cells in the hippocampus, the brain area at the epicenter of learning and memory, are often the first to be compromised by disease or trauma. It explains why cognitive decline and memory loss often accompany the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Let us explore the early signs and symptoms of Dementia:
- Speech or Language Impairment
While it is normal for everyone to struggle with word choice from time to time, a person with Dementia may often forget words or simple terms. They could have problems coming up with words, be unable to remember what they meant to say, be incapable of paying attention to extended talks, or lose their train of thought. It also makes speeches and writing difficult to comprehend. They may also retreat from social situations since they have trouble keeping up with conversations.
- Decline in Capacity to Remember
The most prevalent early sign of Dementia is a decline in one’s memory, particularly short-term memory (the ability to recall recent events). Individuals who experience normal forgetfulness can remember other information linked with the subject they have forgotten. For instance, people may temporarily forget their next-door neighbor’s name. Nevertheless, they still recognize the person they are speaking with as their next-door neighbor. However, for people with Dementia, it may cause them to forget more than just names and faces. Sometimes older memories are more likely to remain intact than more recent ones.
- Inability to Carry Out Routine Activities
Everyday actions that most of us can accomplish almost automatically may be a real challenge for people with Dementia. A person with Dementia could forget the proper sequence for things like putting on clothing or cooking.
- Disconnection from Reality
Individuals with Dementia may get disoriented even in their neighborhoods. They often have difficulty finding their way home if they wander out. A person with Dementia may also confuse day with night. Before any additional signs of Dementia appear, some patients experience the separation from reality characteristic of psychosis. According to a study published in 2017, patients diagnosed with late-onset schizophrenia may potentially be suffering from Dementia with psychosis.
- Reduced or Impaired Judgment
Dementia symptoms include diminished or impaired judgment and difficulty making decisions. In rare cases, this symptom might appear before the memory loss itself. Dementia patients may neglect personal hygiene because they cannot decide what to wear, or they may overdress on hot days and underdress on cold ones.
- Losing Track of Things
Someone with Dementia may peculiarly rearrange their belongings. People with Dementia may store items in odd locations, such as an iron in the refrigerator or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. It is usual for everyone to misplace their wallet or keys every once in a while. Unfortunately, persons with dementia are often unable to remember where they put things or how to go back to retrieve them. As the condition worsens, sometimes they may even start accusing others of stealing.
- Changes in Behavior and Mood Swings
People with dementia may become overly sensitive, with moods swinging wildly or becoming irritable for no apparent reason. There is also the possibility that they exhibit fewer outward displays of emotion and sociability than is typical of them. People with Dementia can lose interest or care about their emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical, or physical lives.
They might feel sad or shut down, losing interest in things they used to enjoy. Dementia may cause more dramatic changes in personality, such as confusion, suspicion, or withdrawal. Despair and anxiety may also manifest as symptoms.
- Difficulty Interpreting Visual Information
People commonly struggle with abstract thinking skills like using a calculator or balancing a checkbook. These tasks may be incredibly challenging for someone with Dementia because they may no longer have a firm grasp on the concept of numbers or how they are used.
They may have double vision, have trouble with spatial awareness, judging distances, and struggle to set down items such as a pencil or cup in the proper place. They may also have difficulty seeing three-dimensional objects and determining color or contrast.
Causes of Dementia
Dementia is carried on by disruptions in the communication between neurons, which may occur due to either cell death or the aging of the brain’s neural connections. Dementia may have varying effects and symptoms in different individuals depending on which part of the brain has been affected.
Always keep in mind that forgetfulness is not always a symptom of Dementia. Stress, depression, or a lack of specific vitamins might also be to blame for memory and concentration issues. Here are some common causes of Dementia:
Depression can simulate the signs of memory loss, making it hard to concentrate, stay organized, remember things, and get stuff done. Memory loss is a symptom of depression, which may also make it difficult to focus, recall, and complete tasks. In older age, depression is common, particularly for those who have recently suffered a significant loss or shift in their lives and are now less engaged in daily activities.
Factors like retirement, a severe medical diagnosis, losing a loved one, and moving out of their home can contribute to depression. Depression and Dementia correlate. Depression in early life has been linked to dementia risk in later life, according to several studies. A heightened susceptibility often characterizes Dementia’s early stages to depression.
- Insufficient Levels of Vitamins
Vitamin B12 is essential for normal brain function and preserves neurons. Brain damage is one of the consequences of B12 deficiency. It might be challenging to receive enough B12 as we age because of a reduced nutritional absorption rate. People who partake in unhealthy activities like smoking or drinking may be at a higher risk. Vitamin deficiency symptoms are reversible if medication is given promptly when they first appear.
- Metabolic and Endocrine System Disorders
Dementia-like symptoms or other personality changes may manifest in people with thyroid issues, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), an inadequate diet low in salt or calcium, or an inability to absorb vitamin B-12.
If the thyroid gland is dysfunctional, our metabolism may be too rapid, leaving us feeling confused and sluggish. Or too slow, exhausted, and depressed. Remembering things and being unable to focus are only two memory issues that may stem from thyroid issues.
- Alcohol Abuse
Abuse of alcohol is associated with a decline in brain function and memory. Long-term alcohol usage may also raise the likelihood of developing Dementia. We have known for quite some time that heavy drinking is associated with different neurological disorders. An increased risk of Dementia, especially early-onset Dementia, was shown to be associated with alcohol use disorders in various studies and research.
Dehydration strikes with greater frequency in those over the age of 65. Extreme dehydration may trigger symptoms similar to Dementia, including confusion, drowsiness, and memory loss. Follow the link for further information on the signs of dehydration in older adults and how to avoid it.
- Medication Side Effects
Memory loss and other cognitive issues are common adverse effects of a wide variety of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. Due to slower drug metabolism and absorption, this is particularly frequent among the elderly.
Many older adults who take many medications are at risk of developing a “medication fog” that may lead to symptoms of Dementia. According to medical experts, some prescription drugs, including antidepressants, sleeping tablets, and pain relievers, might lead to clouded cognition. By interfering with neurotransmission, medicines cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
Possible Treatment and Prevention
Approximately 20% of dementia symptoms are reversible. There is no sure way to cure Dementia, but there are steps we can take that might help. A health-focused lifestyle may reduce risk factors for some kinds of Dementia.
Keeping up with the same routines that keep us physically fit and mentally healthy also keeps our memory sharp. The earlier we take measures to avoid cognitive decline, the better off we will be. Here are helpful steps that we can take:
- Keeping the Mind Active
Mentally stimulating activities such as reading, puzzle solving, and word games, as well as memory training, may postpone the development of Dementia and reduce its symptoms. Mind-stimulating activities have been shown to slow the cognitive deterioration associated with aging. Brain exercises like playing games and solving puzzles can effectively delay the onset of Dementia and other mental health issues.
- Participate in Healthy and Fun Activities
Delaying the development of Dementia and alleviating its symptoms could be possible with regular exercise and simple social interaction. Scheduling time with friends, joining a book club, or visiting the local senior center are terrific ways to engage in high-quality, face-to-face social engagement, which may significantly lower stress and work as potent brain medication.
Older adults may be concerned that increasing their physical exercise would force them to perform something they dislike. Finding effective ways to spend our time is crucial. We must discover what activities we can enjoy and stick with them. It might be beneficial to ease into the exercise and work our way up to a moderate level. Professionals from Tita Homecare can help plan and execute simple activities to help older adults stay physically active.
- Putting an End to Smoking Habit
Dementia and cardiovascular disease risk rise with continued tobacco use beyond middle age. By quitting smoking, we may improve our health and reduce our vulnerability to several diseases. Smokers have a significantly higher risk of developing Dementia as they age. Smoking has a detrimental effect on many blood vessels in the brain, heart, and lungs.
The sooner we break the habit, the earlier we can reduce the risk of Dementia and other health issues.
- Receiving Enough Vitamins
Recent studies have shown that persons with low amounts of vitamin D in their blood are at an increased risk of developing dementia. Foods, supplements, and sun exposure are all viable options for obtaining vitamin D.
Although more research is needed to know more about the relation of vitamin D to dementia prevention, it would be advisable to ensure we get enough of it. In addition, consistently taking vitamins B and C can help.
- Take Steps to Reduce the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
As we age, the risk of getting certain diseases or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, also increases.
These disorders are associated with an increased likelihood of developing Dementia. Going for routine checkups is an essential preventative measure we can take.
- Stick to a Balanced and Nutritious Diet
The omega-3 fatty acids present in certain fish and nuts, together with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant-based foods, may help us stay healthy and lessen our risk of developing dementia. The decreased dementia risk is due to the improved cardiovascular health brought on by this diet.
- Obtain Quality Sleep
Sleep is essential for mental health and may lessen the incidence of Dementia. Older adults require at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Doctors should be consulted by older adults who snore excessively or experience intervals where they gasp for breath during sleep. A sleep disease known as obstructive sleep apnea may raise a person’s chance of developing dementia since their oxygen supply to the brain is reduced.
- Stay On Top of Hearing Problems
Hearing loss increases your likelihood of acquiring dementia, according to a 2020 Lancet research, which identifies which lists hearing loss as one of the leading risk factors for dementia. Hearing loss may strain the brain, causing it to try to hear and fill in the gaps. As we age, we often experience a decline in our hearing, which we may initially overlook.
Hearing tests are essential to protect our ears from damage, especially as we age and suspect hearing issues. Regular medical exams will detect hearing loss and provide treatment options like hearing aids.
Dementia causes are identified using a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, mental state examination, and laboratory and imaging examinations. The doctor may do tests to see whether the deterioration of mental capacity is due to a treatable ailment. Knowing what type of dementia a person has is advantageous because it may guide the doctor in prescribing medications or other therapies that may enhance mood and behavior.
Diagnosis also rules out other conditions which can cause dementia-like symptoms. Different illnesses, such as infections, depression, nutritional deficiencies, and side effects from medication, can cause symptoms of Dementia. If a medical professional can figure out what is causing the symptoms quickly, proper treatment can start sooner.
- Medical History
The doctor will question the patient and their family or significant other about recent illnesses or life events that might trigger memory loss. The doctor will also inquire about other symptoms, such as mood swings or changes in behavior.
The doctor could also want to bring in the patient’s current medications. Using this method, the doctor may determine whether or not the patient’s symptoms result from a drug interaction or excessive medication usage.
Multiple diseases may contribute to Dementia in a given individual. However, symptoms may occasionally serve as a means of diagnosis. People with frontotemporal Dementia, for instance, may show early on a lack of social awareness and an obsession with food.
- Laboratory Tests
A wide variety of medical disorders may affect one’s mental state. A doctor will complete a physical examination and request necessary laboratory tests to assess if the symptom is reversible. Underactive thyroids can be detected through Thyroid Hormone Tests—Vitamin B-12 blood test for vitamin deficiency.
The symptoms of dementia may be traced back to a wide variety of probable causes, and toxicology tests on body fluids (blood, urine, hair) can help pinpoint those causes. A lumbar puncture is done to test the spinal fluid for the presence of particular proteins. Sometimes, this procedure is used to diagnose a condition or rule out a potential source of symptoms.
- Radiological Exams
CT scans and MRIs of the brain may also be performed to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms. Normal-pressure hydrocephalus, brain tumors, and other possible causes of cognitive decline may be ruled out by the results of these exams.
Strokes caused by vascular Dementia may also be seen on MRI and CT scans. Both the single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and the positron emission tomography (PET) scan are helpful in the diagnosis of Dementia.
- Additional Examinations
An electroencephalogram(EEG) may record electrical brain activity in certain situations. Doctors seldom use this test to detect Dementia. However, it may be used to differentiate between Dementia and delirium and to screen for abnormal brain activity associated with other diseases.
A lot of us worry about developing Dementia as we age. Facing the possibility of dementia may be terrifying, mainly if we have seen a close family member or friend struggle with the condition. However, the truth is far brighter than the common belief that all we can do is cross our fingers and pray for a pharmaceutical solution.
By taking the essential steps in this article, we may be able to stop dementia from getting worse or lower the chance of getting it. By recognizing and managing risk factors and implementing modest but effective lifestyle adjustments, we may enhance our chances of a lifelong healthy brain.
Express Home Care for Older Adults
It’s important to remember that dementia is only one of several conditions that might increase the demand for in-home caregiving services among the elderly. Tita Homecare can tailor their care plans to match each client’s needs.
A balanced diet, frequent exercise, encouraging relationships, and cognitively engaging activities contribute to a long and happy life. Contact us today so we can create a care plan suitable for you or your loved one. You may use our online form or call us at 1 (818) 700-8959
This article does not include all symptoms for each category, just the most prevalent ones. This blog, website, and linked resources are not meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.