What is Dementia? Dementia is a complex, often misunderstood condition that causes great distress to families. Roughly 850,000 people suffer from dementia in the UK, with 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 suffering from some form of the condition.
These numbers are expected to rise to over 1 million people with the condition come 2025, and 2 million by 2051. Approximately 40,000 under the age of 65 suffer from the condition, and 25,000 victims come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This article asks what dementia is, and its causes.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a persistent intellectual impairment; that is, it is the name given to symptoms that include such problems as memory loss, language difficulties, problem-solving, and coherent thinking. It is caused by damage to the brain which comes in one of two broad categories.
Non-degenerative dementia is caused by cardiovascular issues resulting in a lack of oxygen and/or blood to the brain, such as in the case of strokes. The other category is degenerative dementia. These dementias are caused by problems with the nervous system, such as is the case with Alzheimer’s disease. The specifics of any individual’s dementia depends entirely on which part(s) of the brain are damaged.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
As mentioned, the symptoms present in any case of dementia depend on which dementia is suffered. Furthermore, dementia is a progressive illness, meaning any symptoms that are suffered will start off relatively minute and then become worse over time. A list of symptoms associated with dementia follows:
● Lack of Orientation: Sufferers often become confused about their location, or have difficulties recalling the time or date
● Language Difficulties: Struggling to follow a conversation, and frequently failing to recall the right word are common problems for those with dementia.
● Poor Visuospatial Skills: People with dementia often struggle to perceive objects correct, such as misjudging distance on stairs or with depth perception
● Declining Daily Memory: A commonly known symptom of dementia, its victims often have difficulties recalling what has occurred in recent memory
● Poor Planning, Concentrating, and Organisational ability: Sufferers often have problems with following sequences (such as the steps required to cook a meal), and may take a long while to make decisions.
What Causes Dementia?
The causes of dementia have been mentioned: damage to the brain arising through degenerative or non-degenerative methods. But within this, each specific sub-category of dementia has its own causes based on which part of the brain is damaged.
Alzheimer’s makes up 65% of all dementia’s, so is by far the most common kind. It is a degenerative dementia that is caused due to atrophy (shrinking) of the cerebral cortex. Changes in the hippocampus (such as the increases in amyloid plaques) cause damage to brain cells, which results in an inability for neurons to communicate with each other, leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Vascular dementia is the type of dementia caused by a single, strong stroke, or a series of smaller strokes. Thinning of the blood vessels in the brain caused by the strokes results in a lack of oxygen reaching the brain, bringing about the deaths of brain cells. A related type of dementia is known as subcortical vascular dementia, which occurs when a disease disrupts blood flow to the deep regions of the brain.
Mixed dementia occurs when one suffers from multiple kinds of dementia, the most common combination of which is Alzheimer’s and Vascular dementia.
What is dementia with Lewy Bodies?
Dementia with Lewy Bodies is a type of dementia caused by the development of Lewy Bodies inside the brain’s neurons. These bodies disrupt the balance of the cells, altering their chemical makeup and leading to their eventual death. This type of dementia is often associated with Parkinson’s disease since it disrupts the motor cortex, and also features hallucinations.
Frontotemporal dementia occurs when the frontal and temporal lobes are the parts of the brain affected by dementia. Clumps of proteins begin to build up inside the neurons in these brain regions, which lead to their eventual deaths. Because the frontal lobe is the part of the brain associated with higher cognitive processes, there are often changes in behaviour or personality with this type of dementia. Likewise, if the damage in the temporal lobe includes damage to the Broca’s region, then there will also be difficulties with language production.
There are rarer causes of dementia, too, such as HIV infections and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, but altogether these make up only 5% of diseases. A more common example is Parkinson’s disease, where there is a loss of cells within the basal ganglia in the brain. Since this is brain damage, it can result in dementia as the condition progresses.
There is also a genetic factor involved with the illness. Whilst it doesn’t directly cause dementia, the ApoE4 gene is inherited from our parents, and the more copies of it there are, the higher the chance of developing dementia. For example, 6/100 over-75s with no copies of ApoE4 will suffer dementia, whereas 11/100 and 18/100 over-75s with one or two copies of the gene respectively will suffer dementia. That said, only 2/100 people inherit two copies of the gene, and most research suggests it is epigenetic (that is, the expression of the gene is affected by the environment, i.e lifestyle choices).
“What is dementia?” related training
At Online Care Course we offer a number of courses relating to dementia and Alzheimers. Our understanding dementia course is part of the Working with disabilities training course range. Covering care specialist training online the range includes training modules on Autism Awareness, Aspergers Awareness, Stroke Awareness and Epilepsy Awareness.
Further Reading on what is dementia
The NHS website has lots of information about dementia: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/about/
The Alzheimer’s Society is a charity aiming to help beat dementia, and provide lots of advice and information about the disease: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/