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Many people experience minor changes to their memory over the years. If you or a loved one occasionally have trouble recalling recent events, misplace everyday items, or temporarily forget names or words, it’s typically not a cause for concern. These lapses could be part of the normal aging process.
However, dementia — more seriously impaired thinking, memory, and problem-solving that interferes with daily living — is not part of normal aging.
Dementia is a universal term for an irreversibly impaired and progressively worsening ability to think, remember, or problem-solve that affects one’s ability to perform daily activities.
Individuals with dementia can experience a range of symptoms such:
- Memory loss
- Communication challenges
- Reasoning difficulties
- Problem-solving issues
- Motor function limitations
- Personality changes (e.g. anger, depression)
Signs of dementia may be constant, sporadic and unpredictable.
Symptoms may also occur at certain times of the day. For example, individuals with dementia may have trouble sleeping or experience “sundowning,” a state of heightened confusion that spans the late afternoon and night. Sundowning may cause a one to have symptoms, such as wandering and pacing or becoming fearful or aggressive at night.
The cause of sundowning is not yet known, but factors that contribute may include:
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Caffeine intake at night
- Dehydration and hunger
- Stress and/or depression
- Changes in lighting and shadows that cause fear
- Underlying health issues
- Trouble separating reality from dreams
Dementia is not a single disease but instead a condition that can be caused by multiple different diseases. The most common types of dementia include:
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent
of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s worsens over time, and typically causes
memory loss, problems with language, and erratic or unpredictable behavior.
Some people with Alzheimer’s disease also experience changes in their mood and
may become confused and frightened or angry and violent, sometimes rapidly
swinging between these extremes.
The cause of Alzheimer’s is not fully understood, although there are links to certain genes that can be passed from parent to child.
Vascular dementia occurs when blood vessels supplying oxygen to the brain are damaged. The damage can be gradual and progress over time as the result of numerous narrowed blood vessels or small blockages or bleeds in the brain, or it can have sudden onset following vascular brain injuries such as stroke.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss is not typically a pronounced symptom of vascular dementia. Instead, common symptoms of vascular dementia include sluggish thinking, trouble solving problems or making decisions, unsteady gait, and difficulty concentrating or focusing.
Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia is another common cause of progressive dementia. Lewy body dementia is more common in men than women, can have a sudden onset, and may progress very quickly. Symptoms of Lewy body dementia include impaired thinking and memory, difficulty remaining alert or maintaining attention, stiffness and slowness of movement, visual hallucinations, and changes to sleep and behavior.
Lewy body dementia can also cause bodily systems to become dysregulated, which may lead to circulatory or digestive problems such as changes to blood pressure, dizziness, and constipation.
Some people with dementia can have two or more underlying diseases, such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that contribute to their symptoms.
Dementia symptoms may also be caused by other conditions, such as endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, immune disorders or infections, nutritional disorders, or even medication side effects.
While dementia can be caused by multiple diseases, there are reversible conditions that can mimic dementia symptoms. Therefore, getting the right medical diagnosis is critical. Speak to your loved one’s doctor if you notice any symptoms — especially if your senior has any risk factors for dementia, such as:
- Family history
- Poor diet
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking or alcohol use
- Cardiovascular disease
- Sleep apnea
Although dementia is incurable, there are treatments and dementia care that can improve your loved one’s quality of life and help control symptoms.
If you're interested in more information about how in-home care can help your loved one, contact us