By Alison Wood, Contributing Writer
While dementia is more common amongst older adults, it is by no means a normal part of aging. That said, it is believed that more than half of people who are 85 years of age or older have some form of dementia. Therefore, if you are caring for an older adult, dementia might very well touch your life.
But what exactly is dementia? And while we hear regularly about Alzheimer’s, is Alzheimer’s the only form of the disease?
What defines dementia?
If a person’s daily life and activities are affected by a loss of cognitive functioning (which can take the form of changes in thinking, memory, and reasoning), then they are said to be suffering from dementia.
Not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. While some people will become forgetful, others might lose language skills, have difficulties with visual perception, struggle to self-manage, or lose their ability to problem solve.
Dementia can start in quite a mild way but can become much more severe over time, and can lead to the person relying solely on others for care and the ability to function.
The symptoms of dementia are caused by changes in the brain. Once-healthy neurons stop working, lose connectivity with other brain cells, and ultimately die. As we age, we all lose neurons, but people with dementia do so at an accelerated rate.
The different types of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults. Symptoms usually appear when someone is in their mid-60s. It has been known for people to be diagnosed from their 30s onwards, although early-onset dementia is very rare.
The disease is progressive. It destroys thinking skills and memory, and eventually, the person who has been diagnosed will be unable to undertake even simple tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is also irreversible.
Frontotemporal disorders are forms of dementia caused by damage to the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. The neurons are damaged and ultimately die, which leads to atrophy and shrinkage in these lobes of the brain. As the damage progresses, it can lead to difficulties in thinking and changes to behavior that are controlled by these areas of the brain. This form of dementia is often associated with more unusual behavior patterns. The person might have emotional problems, lack of impulse control, difficulties communicating, and walking issues.
Frontotemporal dementia is the most common cause of dementia in people under the age of 60. It is estimated that around 60 percent of people with frontotemporal dementia are in the age range 45 to 64 years old.
Lewy body dementia
In Lewy body dementia or LBD, abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein occur in the brain. These deposits are known as Lewy bodies and lead to changes in a person’s thinking, behavior, movement, and mood.
The disease is often difficult to diagnose in the early stages as its symptoms can be confused with other brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or even with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. Ultimately there are two different diagnoses of Lewy body dementia. The first is dementia with Lewy bodies, known as DLB. The second is Parkinson’s disease dementia. While the earlier signs might differ, people with these two types of diseases will often go on to develop similar symptoms.
Other conditions that affect the brain
There are also other types of progressive brain disease that can affect older adults. Vascular conditions, such as stroke or brain injury, can lead to changes in memory, thinking, and behavior, which are all associated with dementia. People might also suffer from mixed dementia. This is when someone is affected by more than one type of dementia. For example, someone might have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and also have vascular dementia as the result of a stroke.
It’s also important to remember that not all memory issues mean that a person is suffering from dementia. There are a number of medical conditions that can lead to symptoms that are very similar to dementia. Side effects from some medications can also mimic the signs of dementia. That’s why if someone in your care is starting to show signs of dementia you should always get them checked out by a medical professional, to ensure the right diagnosis is reached.
When someone in the family suffers from one of the many causes of dementia, it can be a very typical time not only for the dementia sufferer, but also for any family members called to be caregivers. Caring for someone with dementia can be all-encompassing. The person suffering with the disease will need, at some stage — often early, an enormous amount of care. Some of it might need to be specialized or even medical in nature.
Turning to an in-home care agency can help alleviate some of a family caregiver’s stress, while providing special assistance as well. Care & Comfort at Home, a in-home caregiving agency in the Chicago area, has caregivers that have had training and experience in caring for people who have dementia. They also are licensed to provide skilled nursing services — not something that all in-home care agencies can offer.
This information is courtesy of The National Institute of Aging (NIA). You can read the full article by clicking HERE.