According to reports made by the Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), a new dementia case is diagnosed ever 3 seconds. The report further estimates that 50 million people around the world suffered from dementia in 2017 alone, a figure which represents an approximately 6.4 per cent increase in the number of cases recorded in 2015. The risk of dementia increases with old age but, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “…it is not a normal part of aging”.
Is dementia really on the rise? The ADI further reports that there are 9.9 million people diagnosed with dementia every year. Why is dementia rising? Can you stop it?
Signs of Dementia
The average age for dementia is roughly 65. Based on a report prepared by the Alzheimer’s Society, “Above the age of 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every 5 years. It is estimated that dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80”.
Based on a definition offered by the World Health Organization, “Dementia is a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities”.
The Alzheimer’s Association details the 10 most common signs and symptoms of dementia as follows:
- Memory loss
- Lack of focus
- Difficulty performing mundane functions
- Experiencing temporal and spatial difficulties
- Problems with visual perception
- Language difficulties
- Forgetfulness including misplacing things
- Poor judgment and decision-making capabilities
- Difficulty conversing or socializing with others
- Negative mood and strained relationships
In general, dementia manifests differently among people who are affected. Although memory loss is a common sign of dementia, the NIH identifies two other factors that must be present for a positive diagnosis of dementia:
1. Impairment of two or more core functions of the brain, such as memory and language skills.
2. A severe loss of capability to perform day-to-day tasks normally.
Causes of Dementia
The Alzheimer’s Association points out that the major risk factors for developing dementia include family history, heredity and old age. However, it also considers degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, as well as hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol levels as risk factors. The Alzheimer’s Society of UK considers that men and women at midlife developing these health conditions are at a greater risk of becoming affected by dementia later in life.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that up to two-thirds of all people affected by dementia are women, making dementia more common in females than in males. The NIH points out that a certain type of dementia called frontotemporal disorders are more common among men and women in midlife. This particular type is the most common dementia at 40 to 64 years of age. It is caused by the damage of neurons located on the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain which may affect language, ability to focus, emotions, and memory.
In a study that took more than 40 years to complete, researchers found that women who exhibited high levels of physical fitness were 90 per cent less likely to develop dementia versus women who were only moderately fit. However, other than fitness level, listed below are other possible causes of dementia that put women in midlife at higher risk:
- High blood pressure in women. Linking dementia and hypertension, and dementia and high blood pressure, as well as the association of dementia with the development of other cardiovascular diseases have been established. The normal blood pressure for women over 40 generally varies, although 120/80 is still considered to be the normal measure. Whereas high blood pressure in women over 40 may be felt with a 140/90 gauge measure.
- History of heart attack and stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. These generally affect the heart and brain connection, as well as causes nerves to become degraded.
- Menopause. It generally affects your brain health as the normal levels of estrogen and other hormones critical to the brain’s normal functioning decline. Simultaneously, unmanaged stress and mood swings raise cortisol levels which ca cause degradation of nerves that eventually affect brain health.
The following increases risk of dementia in your 30s:
- Sleep apnea
- Excessive alcohol
- Vitamin deficiency
- Diseases, including those associated with the thyroid, as well as metabolic disorders and multiple sclerosis
Prevention of Dementia
Although the leading causes of dementia are beyond your control, you can still lower your risk by reversing the risk factors mentioned above that are associated with your lifestyle choices. More specifically, prevention of dementia involves the following:
Treatment and Care of Dementia
There is no treatment available for dementia, only medications that temporarily help improve it. How do you take care of someone with dementia? One thing is for sure — it won’t be easy. A caregiver’s support will be a key success factor, however, in managing the condition well.
Below are some tips to help you better take care of a loved one who has dementia and yourself as well:
- Build a more favorable environment. Individuals suffering with dementia can become easily confused so minimizing disturbances, such as noise, improves their mood and behavior.
- Do not take what s/he says or does personally. Remember that your patient’s cognitive process is impaired which makes overreaction to situations normal. Do not engage your patient in an argument or debate.
- Monitor vital signs and constantly check on patient’s comfort. Make sure to keep a record of patient’s activities to make sure s/he is performing basic living requirements, including eating, sleeping, and bowels.
- When patient consistently becomes violent or endangers himself or herself, consider medication. Consult with a physician who may prescribe certain meds such as anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medicine if s/he finds reasonable cause for prescribing these.
There is a generally higher risk for developing dementia as you get older but, you don’t have to go through it. Prevention is key. What you do to your body today will definitely affect your brain health in the future.