Dementia Types and Causes: An Introduction
Dementia is a term that refers comprehensively to a variety of symptoms and diagnoses related to a multitude of different causes. Ultimately, dementia is a disorder that results in an individual developing difficulties in thinking, remembering, understanding, communicating and ultimately in controlling behaviors.
Dementia : An overview
The most prominent dementia type is Alzheimer’s disease. However, different forms of dementia affect different mental abilities and are manifested in very different ways. In addition to the way the symptoms are presented, they also progress in very different ways. Dementia by its very nature progresses. At the present time, it cannot be cured. Eventually people with dementia require complete care.
Although dementia can begin at any age, for the most part, it is a disease of the elderly. About 6% to 8% of people over the age of 65 have dementia. As people get older the rate of dementia continues to climb to a higher level with approximately 35% of people over the age of 85 having dementia. Even though it is a fact that the rate of dementia increases as people become more elderly, it is not inevitable as many people never develop dementia although they may get to the age of 100 and older.
Unfortunately, as people get older and begin to forget or misplace things they began to fear that they are developing dementia and in particular Alzheimer’s disease. Much of this forgetting is normal and not dementia, although some of these people may develop dementia at a later point in time.
Dementia Types and Causes:
The most common and most notorious dementia type is Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, there are many other types of dementia such as vascular (multi-infarct) dementia which is a result of strokes and Lewy body dementia. Some people may have a mixed dementia which may include more than one dementia cause. Some of the less common dementias are as a result of Parkinson’s disease or a tumor or may be the result of normal-pressure hydrocephalus.
In Alzheimer’s disease as in some other dementias, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain may be low. These neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help the nerve cells (neurons) to communicate with each other. In addition to helping with many different bodily functions, acetylcholine assists in learning, memory and concentration. Sometimes there are other changes that take place in the brain, although it is not clear whether they are the result or the cause of these specific types of dementia.
If certain disorders are not adequately treated dementia may increase. Some of these underlying disease processes are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and heart failure. When these diseases are adequately treated, many individuals have improvement in their dementia symptoms.
Medication and Dementia:
There are many medications that can temporarily cause or worsen symptoms of dementia. Some of the worst contributors to either causing or increasing symptoms of dementia are medications used to assist with sleeping such as over-the-counter sleep aids or sedatives, cold remedies and medication used to treat depression and anxiety. Some of these remedies can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription. Also, drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can increase the symptoms of dementia in a vulnerable individual.
Delirium is also known to cause symptoms that may be believed to be dementia. Delirium is a temporary disorder usually attributable to some underlying cause such as medication use, disease and even lifestyle changes such as hospitalization. Delirium is not considered to be a dementia type although it may be a causative factor.
Some information adapted by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health and Geriatric Psychologist) from The Merck Manual Health & Aging