Over 50 million people worldwide have an ailment that progressively affects their memory, thinking, and behavior. That number grows each year with nearly 10 million new diagnoses. By 2050, an estimated 131 million people will have some form of memory impairment, including dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that indicate some brain impairments. It has a physical, social, and psychological impact on the lives of those who suffer from it.
People with dementia experience a cognitive decline that goes beyond what is typical for older adults. That decline often leaves them confused and in need of more supervision and care.
The more you know about it, the more able you will be to make crucial decisions for a relative in your life who requires a memory care community that is better able to support them.
What is Dementia?
Dementia isn’t a specific disease but more like a category of conditions related to cognitive deterioration and memory impairments. The more commonly known form of dementia in Missouri and across the US is Alzheimer’s disease, affecting one in nine people over 65.
Dementia typically involves memory impairments, but it can come from different causes. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a neurologic disorder that causes the death of brain cells. Vascular dementia involves the blood vessels in the brain.
Although dementia tends to affect people 65 and older, it can start earlier. Diagnosis rates of early-onset dementia, beginning between the ages of 30 to 64, increased by 200 percent from 2013-2017.
Dementia consists of a complex set of symptoms, which may differ depending on the cause. In general, they involve changes in cognition and mental health.
Cognitive changes could include:
- Memory loss – This is often one of the initial symptoms that family notice. It could involve missing appointments, losing things, getting lost, and repeating stories over and over.
- Difficulty finding words or communicating
- They may get lost or turned around easily.
- Trouble problem-solving
- Inability to complete complex tasks, including housekeeping
- Problems with planning and organization
- General confusion
- Being easily disoriented
Psychological dementia symptoms include:
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate behavior
The sooner a diagnosis is made, the faster interventions can take place that might slow the progression of dementia.
Types of Dementia
Dementia is a category that involves a group of symptoms. There are, however, actual conditions behind those symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is the condition most people associate with the word “dementia.” It is not clear what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but there is an indication that it might involve a beta-amyloid protein. Clumps of this protein are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s residents in the form of clumps and tangles that interfere with brain processes. There may also be a genetic component to Alzheimer’s. It does tend to run in families.
Vascular dementia is caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain. Treatment can reduce the severity of the symptoms. It can also be a symptom of a stroke or a series of ministrokes. Vascular dementia can cause confusion and a poor attention span. Those experiencing it might also have an unsteady gait and be easily agitated.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy Body Dementia occurs when balloon-like clumps of protein develop in the brain. People with this condition may act out dreams during sleep, experience visual hallucinations and have trouble focusing. Individuals with this form of dementia can also develop tremors and motor issues.
Frontotemporal dementia occurs in the part of the brain that controls personality, behavior and language. People with this form have changes in personality, trouble with judgment, thinking and communication.
Huntington’s disease is a rare, inherited disorder linked to dementia. The disease causes nerve cells to deteriorate over a decade or more, impacting the mind, emotions and body. It tends to start earlier in life, around 30 to 60 years of age.
This form of a neurological disorder can create muscles to become tight and rigid, making it challenging to walk. It may develop notable tremors and, over time, progress into dementia. It is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system. As a result, dementia can show up in the later stages of the disease.
One person may have more than one form of dementia.
Stages of Dementia
Medical science divides the progression of dementia into unique stages.
There may not be noticeable symptoms of the condition in these early stages of dementia. Therefore, it is likely you will not notice the cognitive decline. A care provider might notice something on an imaging test that may raise some concerns, though.
By stage two, there may be some cognitive decline, but it will still be mild. For example, an older adult at this stage might forget words or lose things frequently. The signs may be subtle enough that nobody notices or think it is normal.
Stage three is when family and friends might start to see the signs of dementia like short-term memory loss. For example, someone at stage three may have trouble staying organized or making plans. They may frequently misplace things or forget they have something.
Stage four represents more moderate cognitive decline. At this stage, people can lose interest in doing things they once loved, such as reading or painting. They may stop socializing and avoid meeting people. They often become disoriented to place and time, meaning they are unsure of their current date and time.
At this stage, the cognitive decline is more severe. A person in stage five may have significant gaps in memory. They may forget things like their phone number or address. At stage five, they may have trouble with daily tasks like getting dressed or bathing. They may struggle to make choices like what food to eat or clothes to wear.
Stage six represents severe cognitive decline with noticeable memory gaps. They may forget the names of family members or cannot recognize them when they see them. They may call people by the wrong name, as well.
During stage six, confusion and anxiety are very common. Other signs of dementia may increase, as well. They may need help to get around and need assistance going to the bathroom.
By stage six, constant supervision and management become necessary to prevent wandering and to ensure safety. Caregivers can provide distractions such as games and programs that help to ease some of the anxiety and confusion. Dementia care is also crucial for the quality of life and social engagements.
Stage seven is end-stage dementia. During the final stage of dementia, the brain appears to have a disconnect from the body. Some people remain at an early or moderate stage for years before declining further. Others may advance through the stages quickly. They require assistance to do basic activities such as walking, eating and toileting.
Causes and Risk Factors of Dementia
The cause of dementia is damage to nerve cells and how they connect to the brain. The exact symptoms can vary from person to person because the damage can affect different parts of the brain.
For example, the prefrontal cortex stores short-term memory and damage to this area would show a loss of that function. On the other hand, the hippocampus handles long-term memories, so damage would be evident by forgetting family names or recognizing their faces.
The frontal lobe manages speech and behavior. Someone exhibiting poor problem-solving skills and trouble speaking may have damage in the nerve cells in this area of the brain.
Risk Factors of Dementia
Doctors will look for common risk factors of the condition, such as:
- Age – Typically occurs in older adults, usually over the age of 65
- Family history – Different forms of dementia can run in families
- Certain medical conditions – Down syndrome, for instance, can lead to early-onset dementia
There are lifestyle and medical risk factors, as well. They include:
- Lack of exercise – Especially when combined with an unhealthy diet
- Excessive alcohol – Multiple studies indicate a connection between long-term and excessive alcohol consumption and an increased risk of dementia
- Cardiovascular problems – Such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Depression – Late-stage depression may potentially play a role
- Diabetes – Especially when poorly controlled
- Smoking – Smoking can lead to cardiovascular problems that increase the risk of dementia
- Head trauma – Traumatic brain injury is a risk factor
- Sleep problems – This would include sleep apnea
- Nutritional deficiencies – Including low vitamin D, B-6, folate and B-12
Having one or two of the risk factors does not mean someone will get dementia. It is simply another piece of the puzzle care providers look for when determining why symptoms like memory loss might occur.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia
Healthcare providers will look for a pattern of symptoms when making a diagnosis. They will consider changes in personality and memory. They may do cognitive and neuropsychological testing to help confirm their suspicions. Imaging tests like PET scans can show patterns in brain activity and markers of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, such as tau proteins and amyloid. The imaging may also indicate a stroke, tumor or bleeding that might explain the symptoms.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s care providers in O’Fallon MO may also want to talk to family members before making a final diagnosis. Family is often the first to notice the more prevalent symptoms like memory loss, repeating stories and changes in behaviors.
There is no cure for dementia, but treatment can improve memory and slow the progression. The exact treatment will depend on the cause of dementia. Often treatment is more management of the symptoms.
Physicians may also look to correct obstacles that might affect dementia, such as high blood pressure or vitamin deficiencies. As the symptoms worsen, though, care will be the priority.
Dementia Care Options
Initially, no care may be necessary. Family members check in with older adults to make sure they have everything they need. However, it’s essential to watch for changes in eating, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and personal hygiene. As the condition advances, family members can step in and take over specific tasks, including grocery shopping and laundry. Eventually, though, it is necessary to consider the dementia care options available.
For many families, the first care option can include assisted living. This provides dementia care during the initial stages while still allowing independence and freedom. Assisted living means there is someone there when you need them. By choosing an assisted living community, they become a member of a residential community for older adults who need help with daily tasks such as bathing or dressing.
Memory care communities, similar to assisted living, are the second choice for people with dementia. At this level, team members offer more assistance and supervision. They go through special training in Alzheimer’s care and dementia treatment.
As people with dementia move into the middle stages, they require more attention and care throughout the day. At this time, many families look into a memory care community such as Park Place at Winghaven, an O’Fallon memory care community focused on care for Alzheimer’s’ disease and other forms of dementia. Our unique wellness philosophy is a way of life at our Missouri memory care community along with a Valeo philosophy that focuses on each resident’s potential to achieve wellness through engagement and connections.