What is dementia? Early signs, stages, types, and treatment
Dementia is a term used to describe a set of symptoms that include the loss of cognitive functioning which leads to an impaired ability to think, remember, problem-solve, reason, and more.
It typically progresses in stages and the symptoms range in severity. This means that the symptoms may be mild at first, but they get worse over time which often affects an individual’s ability to perform everyday activities altogether.
There are several different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. Dementia mostly affects older adults, however, it is not a part of normal ageing.
Early signs of dementia
Dementia affects the brain, and symptoms often start showing when nerve cells in the brain stop working. Symptoms can vary from person to person depending on their cognitive abilities and overall health, as well as the type of dementia. Different types of dementia affect different parts of the brain, and the symptoms are related to the parts of the brain that are affected. It’s important to monitor any changes in behaviour and ability over time that could indicate the onset of dementia.
Although the symptoms of dementia can vary, people living with dementia commonly have problems with:
- Communicating and formulating words
- Expressing their thoughts
- Reading and writing
- Reasoning, judgement, and problem solving
- Becoming lost
- Completing everyday tasks such as cooking or planning
The stages of dementia
What causes dementia?
Researchers believe that there are multiple causes of dementia which are often linked to the type of changes taking place in the brain. In general, dementia likely develops as a result of multiple factors such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.
Some common risk factors are family history (those who have family members with dementia are more likely to develop it themselves), poor health, gender (being female), and increasing age (the strongest risk factor). While risk factors such as genetics and age can’t be changed, factors such as lifestyle can be. Studies show that leading a healthy lifestyle and being socially and physically active amongst other things can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
How is dementia diagnosed?
Diagnosing dementia is often performed by healthcare specialists who consider cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, memory, and more. This often involves a physical exam, blood tests, and a brain scan.
Different types of dementia
There are several forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common and contributing to 60-80% of cases. It is often difficult to define the boundaries between different forms of dementia which is why it is possible for them to co-exist. Other forms include:
- Lewy body dementia: caused by abnormal deposits of the protein that develop inside nerve cells called Lewy bodies.
- Vascular dementia: caused by conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain such as strokes.
- Fronto-temporal dementia: a rare form that tends to occur in people younger than 60. It is associated with the front lobe of the brain degenerating.
- Mixed dementia: a combination of more than one type of dementia in the brain.
- Other: dementia may also develop due to certain infections such as HIV, or due to excessive alcohol use, injuries to the brain, or nutrition-related deficiencies
Is there a cure for dementia?
Individuals living with dementia are treated based on the type of dementia they have and the underlying cause. There is currently no cure for neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, however, there are medications and tools that can help manage symptoms and help stimulate cognitive function.
Impact of dementia on families
Dementia can often make a person exhibit challenging behaviours and psychological symptoms that can be upsetting for everyone involved in their care. From other nursing home residents, to caregivers and loved ones. This can be overwhelming, but support from care professionals and experts can greatly improve the lives of those living with dementia as well as those who care for them.
There are many ways to support and improve the lives of people living with dementia. Some of these are ensuring they are physically active on a regular basis and that they maintain social contact. This can decrease the chances of developing chronic diseases, make challenging behaviours more manageable and reduce cognitive decline in those living with dementia.
Some examples of treatments for dementia include reminiscence therapy, music therapy, and meaningful activities. The Tovertafel is a great example of a tool that can be used by families and care professionals in dementia care.
Developed specifically for seniors living with dementia and other audiences such as children with special needs and adults with intellectual disabilities, the Tovertafel works by projecting interactive lights onto flat surfaces in the form of games. It provides care professionals and family members with a simple way to provide what many people living with dementia need: stimulating, enjoyable, relaxing, social activities. The Tovertafel’s games are scientifically proven to stimulate physical activity, social interaction, and cognition. This helps promote moments of happiness and connection for people living with dementia and those caring for them.