Nearly 50 million people worldwide have dementia. Currently more than five million of those living with dementia are in the United States and this number is projected to grow to as many as 14 million by 2050. This condition not only impacts the quality of life, but also the finances for those who live with it, as well as their families and caregivers. In 2021, the cost of dementia care exceeded $244 billion in the U.S. While there are ways to ease symptoms, there unfortunately is still no cure.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term that includes many different diseases that affect memory, cognitive abilities and decision making. Many progressively worsen over time and interfere with a person’s ability to perform the simplest everyday tasks.
Abnormal changes in the brain are lumped together in a group called “dementia.” These variations lead to a decline in a person’s cognitive function. The diseases may trigger changes to a person’s moods or personality and make it difficult to complete familiar tasks.
We often see dementia in adults over the age of 65, but many people live well into their 90s without ever developing it. Some cognitive changes are normal as a person ages. It’s not uncommon for people of any age to occasionally forget where they set something down or forget a person’s name that they just met. Even more significant memory loss alone doesn’t necessarily mean a person has dementia.
What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?
Different types of dementia create varying effects from one person to the next. Some of the early signs of dementia include:
Short-term memory changes: difficulty with remembering things are among the most common signs of dementia and early on these problems might be subtle and virtually unnoticeable. A person may remember something from 30 years ago, but quickly forget something that happened earlier that day. Forgetting where they placed something or that they had an appointment on a certain day is often something those with short-term memory changes experience.
More easily confused: confusion is another common early sign of dementia. A person’s face they’ve seen before, what day it is or the words they need to describe an object might be forgotten.
Repetitive behaviors: as a result of memory loss, a person with dementia may start repeatedly doing or saying things.
Trouble with regular daily tasks: a person in the early stages of dementia can experience trouble with completing difficult tasks that they typically performed with ease, such as balancing their checkbook or playing a game with several rules. They may also have difficulty learning something new.
Difficulty finding the right words: conversations often become more difficult for a person living with dementia. Their memory starts to deteriorate and they begin to forget words. They might stumble trying to describe their feelings or an object, or they may describe an object or emotion because they can’t remember the actual word.
Shifting moods: it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to experience major shifts in their mood or personality. Depression is a common early sign.
Other dementia symptoms include:
- Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving
- Visual and spatial awareness trouble
- Problems with motor skill coordination
- Depression and/or anxiety
Types of Dementia
There are many types of dementia. Some common forms are listed below.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s and accounts for 60% to 80% of the cases. It’s also one of the top ten causes of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gets worse as time goes on. It develops as a result of amyloid plaques accumulating on the brain, but scientists have been unable to pinpoint an exact cause to date. These plaques interfere with neuron communication, leading to cell and brain tissue death.
Vascular dementia refers to cognitive deterioration due to conditions that block or obstruct blood flow to the brain causing it to be deprived of essential oxygen and nutrients. It’s the second most common form of dementia in the U.S. Any condition that damages blood vessels can lead to changes in the brain. Like other forms of dementia, age is among the top risk factors. Heart disease, stroke and other conditions may also increase a person’s risk. The most common symptoms include delayed thoughts and difficulty with problem-solving skills.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is also called dementia with Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are protein deposits that develop in nerve cells in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and thinking. Like Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia leads to a increasing decline in mental capabilities. Hallucinations and acting out dreams while sleeping are some of the symptoms those living with Lewy body dementia experience and may also develop tremors or become uncoordinated.
Huntington’s disease is a rare type of genetic disease. It causes the gradual erosion of brain nerve cells, affecting a person’s cognitive abilities and motor skills. Symptoms often begin appearing in a person as early as their 30s or 40s but can present at various ages. For some, it can develop in their 20s, which is referred to as juvenile Huntington’s. The disease causes physical, cognitive and psychological changes.
Parkinson’s disease is also a progressive disease. It attacks the nervous system, and as a result affects causes uncontrollable movements. The symptoms begin subtly and most people may not even notice them at first. Tremors are common in someone living with Parkinson’s disease but they may also experience stiffness or slowed movements. Symptoms vary from one person to the next, but they might include:
- Loss of automatic movements
- Slurred speech
- Handwriting changes
- Presence of Lewy bodies in the brain
Mixed dementia is a combination of two forms of dementia. The most common combination is vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies suggest that mixed dementia may be even more common than Alzheimer’s disease.
Stages/Progression of Dementia
Dementia progresses differently for each person, and the progression will depend upon the type of dementia a person has. Some use a three-stage model to describe dementia progression, while others use a seven-stage model.
In the three-stage model, dementia progression is as follows:
Mild (Early-Stage): a person with mild dementia may still function normally, but they start to demonstrate signs of memory impairment that interfere with daily life. They might encounter short-term memory loss, become lost in previously familiar places and even have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings.
Moderate (Middle-Stage): with moderate dementia, a person starts to have increased problems performing everyday tasks. They begin to need assistance with such things like getting dressed, bathing and managing personal grooming. Memory loss becomes more severe as older memories start to fade away and they may also develop more significant personality or behavioral changes.
Severe (Late-Stage): in the severe stage of dementia, they may experience a further decrease in mental and physical abilities. They might lose the capacity to express their needs verbally (even if they can still speak), lose the ability to walk or feed themselvesand ultimately need round-the-clock support.
In the seven-stage model, dementia stages are as follows:
- No impairment
- Very mild decline
- Mild decline
- Moderate decline
- Moderately severe decline
- Severe decline
- Very severe decline
In the earliest stage of this model, a person may not have obvious symptoms of dementia. However, the underlying condition may present on tests. At the latest stage, people with dementia can no longer vocalize their thoughts and will require continual support.
Causes and Risk Factors
Dementia causes vary depending upon the form a person has developed. It commonly occurs as a result of damage to brain cells. This causes these cells to not function properly, and affects thinking and feelings.
The brain has multiple regions, each of which have differing roles and are linked to different types of brain cell damage in specific areas of the brain. For instance, Alzheimer’s displays increased levels of amyloid proteins that damage cells, interfering with their ability to communicate. Eventually, the cells die, as does brain tissue. With vascular dementia, the damage to a person’s brain cells occurs because of reduced or blocked blood flow, which deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly.
While dementia can affect anyone, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing it. Some of the most common risk factors include:
Age: the risk of developing dementia is greatest in people 65 years of age or older, but can still affect those under 65. For example, Huntington’s disease frequently develops in people in their 30s to 40s.
Family history: a person with a parent or sibling who has dementia has an elevated risk of developing it.
Traumatic brain injury: a person who experiences a traumatic brain injury, especially if it was severe, has a bigger risk of developing dementia.
Poor overall health: a person who has risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol), smokes, drinks excessively or has unmanaged Type 2 diabetes is at increased risk.
Lack of social engagement: several studies show that it’s important to maintain an active, healthy social life. Those who do live actively and engaged have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia than those who become withdrawn or depressed.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A healthcare professional is required to make a dementia diagnosis. A physician will need to explore any underlying conditions that may be causing cognitive impairment, such as poor thyroid function or vitamin deficiencies.
To diagnose dementia, a doctor typically starts with a general evaluation to include:
- Medical history review (self and family)
- Physical exam
- Neurological tests
- Lab work
- Brain scans
A combination of evaluations can assist in identifying any underlying causes. While a family physician can sometimes diagnose dementia, an appointment with a specialist may also be necessary to determine the exact type.
To date, there is no cure for dementia but researchers are working diligently to find one. Until then, treatments are being used to slow the progression of the symptoms, preserve cognition longer and make symptoms more manageable.
The precise treatment a physician prescribes depends upon the type of dementia they are experiencing. Generally, these treatments might include:
- Medications to increase chemical messaging in the brain
- Medications to treat symptoms such as depression, anxiety or sleep issues
- Occupational therapy
- Participating in engaging programs
- Establishing a day and bedtime routine
While these treatments won’t eliminate dementia, they can make them easier to manage.
Dementia Care Options in Boca Raton
There are several options for those living with a memory impairment. One common opportunity is for family members to provide in-home support. A family member may move in with them, or they may move into a family member’s home. This allows the person living with dementia to stay in familiar surroundings with familiar faces.
Hiring an in-home assistant allows family members to work in conjunction with a professional, or they may hire help because they are unable to provide the assistance needed.
There are a variety of in-home care service types available. Some provide help with daily living activities such as cooking and cleaning, while others provide medical assistance from a licensed medical professional.
A third option is to move to an assisted living and memory care community such as Sunscape™ Boca Raton. Such communities provide individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia a safe, supportive environment to refocus their abilities and build a full life, helping them to improve their wellness and build strong relationships.
Memory Care at Sunscape Boca Raton
Sunscape Boca Raton provides programs for all community residents, including those with dementia. Each program incorporates our signature ValeoTM wellness philosophy, which emphasizes the use of holistic care to improve overall wellness. Every program is customized to each individual resident, helping them to improve their cognition and make new, wonderful memories.