Dementia is a debilitating condition that can rob you of your memory, personality and ability to perform routine tasks. The World Health Organization states, “Dementia is a syndrome in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological ageing.” There’s several types of dementia with Alzheimer’s being the most common and WHO says, “Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.”
Dementia can become fatal and is the seventh leading cause of death. According to the Alzheimer’s Society United Against Dementia, “A person may die from another condition at any stage of having dementia. Because of this, they may die before their dementia symptoms become very advanced. A person in the later stages of dementia is likely to have a weak immune system. This means they have a higher risk of getting infections, which in some cases can last for a long time. One of the most common causes of death for people with dementia is pneumonia caused by an infection.”
As of now there is no cure for dementia, but there are modifiable risk factors that can help lower the risk. According to WHO, “Studies show that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia by being physically active, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Additional risk factors include depression, social isolation, low educational attainment, cognitive inactivity and air pollution.”
As the population grows older, dementia cases are on the rise and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares what to know about the condition and signs that indicate you could have it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Dr. Mitchell says, “As we age, it’s normal to start forgetting things here and there. We misplace our keys or forget a friend’s birthday. But for those with dementia, memory loss is much more serious. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a decline in cognitive function. This can include problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment. For example, people with dementia may have difficulty performing everyday tasks or even forget who they are. While everyone experiences dementia differently, there are some simple things that people tend to forget.
This may include recent events, names of people they know well, and familiar places. Many people with dementia also have trouble coping with new information and may have difficulty understanding abstract concepts. As the disease progresses, people with dementia may become increasingly withdrawn and eventually lose the ability to speak or communicate entirely. While there is no cure for dementia, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the disease’s progression and improve quality of life.
It’s important to note that memory loss is not the only symptom of dementia. Other signs can include confusion, agitation and aggression, vision problems, language difficulties, and changes in behavior or personality. For example, if you’re concerned that a loved one may have dementia, it’s essential to seek medical advice as soon as possible.”
According to Dr. Mitchell, “One of the most common questions caregivers have is how to best support their loved ones living with dementia. While there is no easy answer, paying attention to colors and lighting in the home can make a big difference. People with dementia often struggle with sensory processing, and too much stimulation can be overwhelming. Bright colors, fluorescent lights, and patterns can be confusing and disruptive. Instead, caregivers should aim for a calm and soothing environment.
Soft hues, indirect lighting, and simple ways can help reduce anxiety and promote well-being. In addition, it’s essential to create a safe and functional space. Clutter and tripping hazards should be removed, and doors and windows should be marked. By paying attention to the details of the living environment, caregivers can create a supportive setting that meets the unique needs of their loved ones.”
Dr. Mitchell shares, “Getting dressed may seem simple, but for some people with dementia, it can be a real challenge. One of the main difficulties is that they may need to be reminded how to put on specific clothing items, such as a shirt or a pair of trousers. Another common problem is that they may be unable to fasten buttons or zip up zips. Additionally, they may need clarification about what clothing is appropriate for the weather or the occasion. For example, they may try to wear a coat in summer or swimwear to go out shopping. These challenges can be frustrating and even distressing for the person with dementia and their carers.
However, some things can be done to help. For instance, simplify clothing choices by simultaneously laying out only a few items. Also, try to provide step-by-step instructions for putting on each item of clothing. Finally, be patient and understanding, as this can be challenging for someone with dementia.”
Dr. Mitchell tells us, “Several risk factors have been linked to dementia, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions. For example, people who smoke or abuse drugs are more likely to develop dementia than those who do not. There are many reasons why smoking is a risk factor for dementia—first, smoking damages the blood vessels, which can decrease blood flow to the brain. This can damage brain cells and lead to problems with memory and thinking. Second, smoking also increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries. This can also reduce blood flow to the brain and cause problems with memory and thinking. Finally, smoking increases the levels of free radicals in the body. These are substances that can damage cells, including brain cells. All these factors combine to make smoking a significant risk factor for dementia.
Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, can increase the risk of developing dementia. However, the most significant risk factor for this condition is simply aging. The vast majority of people with dementia are over the age of 65. As people age, they lose brain cells and experience changes in brain structure and function, making them more vulnerable to dementia. While there is no cure for this condition, treatments can help slow its progression and improve the quality of life for those with it.”
Dr. Mitchell explains, “Dementia and Alzheimer’s are both degenerative brain disorders that can lead to memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with everyday tasks. However, there are some critical differences between the two conditions. Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, while Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s affects the parts of the brain responsible for memory and language. In addition, Alzheimer’s usually progresses more slowly than other types of dementia. It typically develops in people over 65, while other forms of dementia can affect people of all ages.
There are also different types of dementia, which can cause various symptoms. For example, frontotemporal dementia often leads to changes in personality and behavior, while Lewy body dementia can cause hallucinations and delusions. Because there are so many different types of dementia, it is essential to see a doctor if you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms. For example, a doctor can diagnose a specific type of dementia and develop a treatment plan accordingly.”