As a senior citizen, it is important to understand what dementia is as dementia itself is not a disease but a description of a group of symptoms that are associated with variety of diseases, injuries or even medications. By familiarizing yourself with the risk factors of dementia, you can take charge of your health and do what you can to prevent or delay the onset of dementia.
While not every risk factor is under your control, you can reduce your risk of dementia by managing other chronic medical conditions, limiting alcohol and reducing or eliminating tobacco use. It is recommended that you learn about the variety of diseases that inflict dementia like symptoms, as some are reversible and many of these conditions will present themselves differently. To learn more about the types of dementia, including symptoms, prevention and complications, review the information in the sections below.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather describes a group of symptoms that are associated with several chronic diseases and conditions. The group of symptoms that dementia is used to describe include symptoms that affect cognitive thinking, memory and social abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily activities and functioning. In older adults, Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common cause of progressive dementia.
Dementia does not only effect cognitive thinking, but it can take a toll on numerous bodily functions. Dementia can lead to a number of complications. Dementia has been shown to eventually reduce or stop an intake of nutrients, leading to inadequate nutrition. Ultimately, dementia can make a person unable to chew and swallow. Difficulty swallowing can not only give rise to a risk of choking, but food can be aspirated into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia. As dementia progresses, the lack of cognitive function can also effect a person’s ability to care for themselves. In late stages of dementia, coma and death is possible, often from infection.
Risk Factors That You Cannot Control
While dementia can occur in younger people, the risk for dementia does rise with age, especially after the age of 65. Your family history also plays a significant factor in whether or not you are likely to develop dementia. You are more likely to develop dementia if you have a family history of dementia due to a genetic mutation. Fortunately, there are tests that can determine if you have certain genetic mutations that can affect your likelihood to develop dementia.
Down syndrome is another factor that can strongly influence dementia risk factors. There are many individuals who have Down syndrome that will develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Risk Factors That You Can Control
While there are a number of risk factors for dementia that are out of your control, there are several risk factors that are in your control and therefore, you have the potential to reduce your chances of this crippling disease. If you are a heavy drinker, it is important to cut back on the amount of alcohol that you consume. While studies have shown that a moderate amount of alcohol may protect you from dementia onset, too much onset can accelerate this symptom.
Reduce your intake of fat and cholesterol in order to lower your risk of high blood pressure or high cholesterol. By eating a well-balanced diet, you can also reduce your risk of obesity. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity are all factors that can affect whether or not you develop dementia.
If you have diabetes, it is crucial that you manage your diabetes. While diabetics have an increased risk of dementia, that risk is far higher when diabetes is poorly controlled.
Prevention Methods for Dementia
While there is no sure way to prevent dementia, there are a number of factors that may help you prevent or delay onset. There are a number of studies that show benefits and a decreased likelihood of dementia if you:
- Keep your mind active. Participate in mentally stimulating activities such as learning a new skill, reading, word games, number puzzles and memory training.
- Remain social as social interactions may delay the onset of dementia and even reduce symptoms. Therefore, your ties with loved ones can be a crucial part of prevention.
- Maintain a healthy exercise routine, aiming for a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise each week.
- Quit smoking or, at the very least, reduce the amount of tobacco that you use.
- Get enough vitamin D, as research suggests that individuals with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
Symptoms of Dementia
While the symptoms of dementia will vary depending on the cause of the dementia, there are common signs that carry over from one cause to the next, including:
- Memory loss.
- Difficulty finding words or communicating.
- Difficulty with problem-solving or complex tasks.
- Difficulty with organizing and planning.
- Confusion and disorientation.
- Personality changes or inappropriate behaviors.
It is important that you visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of these dementia symptoms, or if a loved one has brought them to your attention. There are medications that may cause dementia symptoms and some forms of dementia are reversible, making it crucial that the cause of your dementia symptoms are identified immediately.
The most common form of dementia for senior citizens is Alzheimer’s disease, which generally affects individuals who are aged 65 or older. The exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease is currently not known and there is not currently a cure for Alzheimer’s
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. It occurs as a result of damage to the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to your vain. Problems can be caused by a number of blood vessels, including strokes.
Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of protein in the brain that is found in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Frontotemporal dementia is characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells inside of your frontal and temporal lobes. These areas of your brain are associated with your behavior, speech and personality. Unfortunately, the exact causes of most dementias are currently unknown, despite the research that has been performed.
Other chronic illnesses that have been linked to dementia symptoms include:
- Huntington’s disease.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.