Dementia is a disorder that disrupts an individual’s everyday life. It is a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social skills. While there is no definite explanation for what causes dementia, there are factors that increase your risk of developing the disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and it accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Symptoms tend to develop slowly and worsen over time. The average person with dementia lives 4 to 8 years after diagnosis but can live up to 20 years depending on other factors. The four main types of dementia are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and fronto temporal dementia.
By identifying the causes and risk factors of dementia, you can better eliminate them from your daily habits and prevent the progression of the disease.
Dementia occurs as a result of damage to your brain cells which interrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate. In turn, the brain region being affected cannot carry out its normal functions and impacts a person’s thinking, behavior, and feelings. Memory loss is often one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s. This is because the center of the brain, known as the hippocampus, is responsible for memory and learning in the brain. It is often the first region where brain cells become damaged and there is no cure or treatment that will delay the progression of the disease. In most cases, there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve a person’s symptoms.
The greatest risk factor for someone developing dementia is age. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles approximately every 5 years after the age of 65. Although 1 in every 4 people aged 85-89 have dementia, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. In fact, about 1 person in every 1000 people below the age of 65 develops dementia. Each person also experiences the symptoms of dementia in a unique way depending on their age.
Vascular dementia, often referred to as “post-stroke dementia,” occurs after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain. Depending on the stroke’s severity and condition, it will affect each person differently. With this kind of disease, symptoms will be present immediately following a stroke. A stroke may be unexpected, but you can implement certain lifestyle changes to lower your risk of experiencing one.
Some of the symptoms of vascular dementia are:
- Trouble paying attention
- Reduced ability to organize thoughts or actions
- Decline in ability to analyze a situation, develop an effective plan, and communicate that plan to others
- Difficulty deciding what to do next
- Problems with memory
- Restlessness and agitation
- Unsteady gait
- Sudden or frequent urge to urinate or inability to control passing urine
- Depression or apathy
Genetics and Family History
Alzheimer’s does run in some families, particularly those who are diagnosed with the early onset disease; however these cases only represent 5 percent of all diagnoses. If you have a relative who developed the disease after the age of 65, there is a slight chance that you will be at risk as well. There is genetic testing available for those who want to assess their risk. The most common test looks closely at the APOE (apolipoprotein E) gene found on Chromosome 19. When you are born, you get one of these genes from your mother and one from your father. The results show that if you have 2/2 genes, your brain will actually be protected, whereas if you have two 4/4 genes, your risk will be greatly increased.
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