Early Signs of Dementia – Dementia Stages

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Signs of Dementia – Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

by Valerie on June 14, 2011

dementia stages

If there’s one thing you don’t want to lose, it’s your ability to think rationally. That’s exactly what happens to those unfortunate people who develop dementia. Although they may have been intellectually gifted early on in life, when afflicted with dementia in their later years their thought processes begin to break down and their memory declines. This can be a source of frustration for the afflicted person as well as the family who witnesses their slow deterioration.

Dementia is a severe impairment or loss of intellectual capacity and personality integration. It is due to the loss of or damage to neurons in the brain. It develops when the parts of the brain that are involved with memory, decision-making, learning, and language are affected by one or more of a variety of infections or diseases.

Early Signs of Dementia

The symptoms can vary with every person, and because every person is different they are affected differently. Often enough people will not notice that their loved ones are affected with dementia because a lot of the time it is hard to catch it in people. The symptoms can include:

  • pronounced short term memory loss
  • difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • problems with language
  • poor or decreased judgment
  • misplacing things
  • changes in mood
  • disorientation of time and place

and especially with frontotemporal dementia

  • changes in personality and social skills

Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

When you think of dementia, you probably picture the vacant, blank face of an Alzheimer’s patient. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but it’s certainly not the only one. There are other types of dementia, some of which are reversible with proper treatment.

Dementia can be caused by

  • substance abuse (drugs and alcohol)
  • hormone imbalances
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • head injury
  • a combination of various prescription medications.

Other common causes are:

  • Vascular disease

- a conditions that reduce blood flow to the brain such as small strokes or “hardening of the arteries”. Vascular dementia isn’t really reversible once the damage is done, but treating the underlying cause such as heart problems, diabetes, or high blood pressure can prevent further progression. Certain neurological diseases can cause dementia too. These are usually progressive and not reversible.

  • Later Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Pick disease

a rare degenerative condition that affects the brain.

Frontotemporal Dementia

There’s another important cause of dementia known as frontotemporal dementia. This is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease in those under the age of sixty-five. This form of dementia is particularly devastating since it can strike adults in their peak years of life, robbing them of their livelihood and their ability to function independently. Like Alzheimer’s, there’s no known cure for this disease, but there’s now a test for frontotemporal dementia that can allow earlier detection of this chronic, brain wasting disease.

This new test for frontotemporal dementia can help to determine whether a person has an increased risk for frontotemporal dementia by checking the level of a blood protein known as progranulin. Persons who have an inherited risk for frontotemporal dementia have defects in the gene that codes for this particular protein. As such, they’ll have reduced progranulin levels in their bloodstream if they’re at high risk for frontotemporal dementia. A blood test can now detect levels of progranulin in the blood to determine the risk well before symptoms of frontotemporal dementia appear. Interestingly, the protein proganulin also plays a role in other brain related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

What type of symptoms are seen with frontotemporal dementia? While people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease usually have pronounced short term memory loss, those with frontotemporal dementia present primarily with changes in personality and social skills. They may say and do things that are inappropriate and inconsistent with their previous personality characteristics. The symptoms can often be mistaken for a psychological disorder resulting in a significant delay in diagnosis.

This new test for frontotemporal dementia can help to make the diagnosis at an earlier stage so appropriate plans can be made by the family. Previously, the diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia has been made by excluding other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

While this test for frontotemporal dementia is useful for diagnosing those at high risk for the disease, treatment options are still limited.

Causes of Reversible Dementia

An older person who experiences memory loss and cognitive function may do so after falling and hitting their head – causing bleeding to occur in the brain. This can lead to brain swelling that compresses brain tissue and leads to symptoms of dementia. In some cases, family members may not even be aware the person has fallen. This condition can usually be diagnosed using head imaging studies.

Another type of reversible dementia comes from a deficiency in B12, a vitamin which is critical for normal brain and nerve function. It’s not uncommon for older people to be deficient in vitamin B12 due to problems with B12 absorption. Blood testing is usually used to rule out this cause of dementia.

Certain infections that may have been present for many years can be causes of reversible dementia. These include fungal infections that affect the brain, HIV, and long-term syphilis. Encephalitis or meningitis can also cause a form of reversible dementia.

Other causes? Hypothyroidism, or an under-active thyroid, can cause symptoms that mimic dementia and are reversible once the person gets on thyroid hormone replacement. Chronic alcoholism and depression can cause reversible dementia symptoms in older people too. Some drugs and exposure to toxins cause a decrease in cognitive function and memory – and any type of long-term chronic illness can cause systemic changes that affect brain function.

Another, not uncommon, cause of reversible dementia is a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus – where pressure rises inside the brain and compresses on brain structures that control memory and thinking. This happens when something blocks the free flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain and spinal cord. People with this condition usually improve when a shunt is placed to drain the excess cerebrospinal fluid that’s putting pressure on the brain.

In some cases dementia can be cured because the original cause of dementia is treatable. For instance, someone who has a case of dementia caused by drugs, alcohol, vitamin imbalances, etc. can be treated. However, in most cases dementia can’t be treated.

There are also some cases where a person may seem to have dementia, however it is actually a severe case of depression causing the symptoms that they have. This is called pseudo-dementia, otherwise known as being false dementia. This particular type of case is very treatable.

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