5.6 million Americans over the age of 65 currently have dementia. They could be a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, or colleague. If you know a person with dementia, you may have noticed symptoms develop over time.
Watching someone you love experience dementia can be scary, confusing, and heartbreaking. There is no way of knowing how quickly someone’s condition will progress, but a person will likely reach a point where they can no longer care for themselves. You can help your loved one and make decisions in their best interest if you understand the symptoms of dementia, its causes, and how it progresses.
What is Dementia?
Different diseases can affect normal brain function and cause dementia. It is not a disease by itself. Dementia reduces a person’s cognitive function, including thinking, reasoning, and memory. A person living with dementia will often experience:
- Reduced memory function
- Vivid hallucinations
- Increased confusion
- Difficulty with language
- Trouble with body control
There is no one test that a person can take to diagnose dementia. A doctor will likely run a series of tests to confirm a diagnosis if they are suspected of suffering the condition. These can include a neurological evaluation, brain scans, and blood tests. Watching for these symptoms is key to determining if someone has dementia and if you should consult a medical professional.
Stages of Dementia
There is no way to tell how quickly dementia will progress after a diagnosis. Knowing the symptoms and causes of dementia can help you catch the condition early and get your loved one the help they need.
There are basic stages of dementia, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Doctors and researchers have determined a few ways to assess what stage of dementia a person has reached and how much assistance they need.
- People with mild dementia are often able to live independently. They will usually experience difficulty managing more complex tasks like taxes, have trouble remembering recent events, and can misplace objects or get lost more frequently.
- Someone with moderate dementia will likely undergo significant personality changes and experience greater memory loss. They will need more help with daily tasks like cooking, bathing, and getting dressed as they may lose motor function.
- At the severe dementia stage, a person will require consistent care to ensure a high quality of life. A person with severe dementia will struggle to communicate and can lose full control of their bodily functions.
What Causes Dementia?
A person is not guaranteed to develop dementia if they have one of these conditions. However, it is essential to understand what causes dementia so you can help your loved one when they need it.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s aren’t as severe as dementia but also include memory loss and diminished cognitive function. While researchers don’t know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, studies suggest that it is likely caused by an irregular build-up of proteins in the brain. Genetic factors and family history also increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Vascular diseases affect your circulatory system or blood flow through your body and can cause aneurysms, stenosis, and muscle pain due to lack of blood flow. The human brain relies on blood to supply oxygen and help it function properly. Vascular disease can restrict that blood supply and lead to brain diseases like dementia.
Lewy bodies are irregular deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein. These deposits cause chemical changes that can lead to Lewy body dementia. Researchers haven’t been able to point to a specific lifestyle risk factor that causes the condition. Parkinson’s disease and REM sleep behavior disorder, however, have been linked to Lewy bodies.
Frontotemporal dementia causes nerve loss in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. The frontal lobe controls many higher-level brain functions such as:
- Speech & language
- Voluntary muscle movement
- Working memory
- Attention & concentration
- Regulating emotions
Your temporal lobe is located behind your ears and helps process auditory information and establish memory. These two regions of the brain are heavily associated with symptoms of dementia.
Memory Support for Dementia
A person with dementia can remain independent for several years following their diagnosis. There is no accurate way to determine how quickly a person’s condition will progress from mild to severe. However, knowing the symptoms to watch for ensures you can help your loved one when they need it. Caring for a person with dementia can be difficult. Often they can become distrustful, even of those they love most. Watching your loved one’s cognitive decline can be devastating for you as a caretaker. Sometimes professional assistance is helpful and, in some cases, necessary. Communities like Fox Trail Memory Care Living at Mahwah are equipped to help your loved one when they and you need it.