Dementia, Part 2
The Better Life Experts | December 2, 2008

This issue of the Newsletter continues our discussion of the most typical causes of dementia and describes some symptoms people may experience in the later stages.

Some of the More Common Causes of Dementia


Many of us know people who have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, so we know first hand what the patient and his-her family are going through. Therefore, in order to help you better understand the diagnosis of either dementia or Alzheimer’s, we have referenced The National Institute of Aging, The Alzheimer’s Association, as well as the Mayo Clinic for the latest information to help you better understand both diseases...in layman’s language (the way Momma Pat explains it). So here is a Primer 101 for the average layman to better understand what a diagnosis of Dementia can mean, mainly focusing on Alzheimer’s Disease.

The most feared of all dementia diseases is Alzheimer’s disease, and the risk of developing this disease increases as we age. Years ago we just said the person was “senile”. Because we weren’t able to diagnose or treat the symptoms with much accuracy, many correctable problems were untreated.

We also hear more about Alzheimer’s disease today because more people are living longer and experience physical changes that people a generation ago never would have encountered. Over the course of our lifetime, cells become damaged and die throughout the entire body, including the brain. And since we live longer today, there is the potential of accumulating more brain damage due to accidents, diseases, exposure to environmental hazards and toxins, unhealthy lifestyles and nutritional deficiencies. Even if we were blessed with “good genes” to start with, decades of damage eventually can take it’s toll. Then you have a serious problem.

The second leading cause of degenerative dementia in older people is Lewy body disease, accounting for about 20% of all dementia cases. In Lewy body dementia, abnormal clumps of protein are found within the brain and disrupt it’s normal functioning. When the proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, the person develops symptoms like we see with Parkinson’s disease. Over 50% of Parkinson’s disease patients develop dementia along with their other symptoms. When Lewy bodies are responsible for the dementia in these cases, the abnormal proteins are found throughout other areas of the brain and can cause havoc with the person’s ability to understand what is going on, to think clearly, and to behave normally. Lewy body dementia can exist purely on its own or along with other brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

In Vascular dementia, symptoms can vary a great deal from one person to another. Since symptoms occur when arteries feeding the brain become narrowed or blocked, how noticeable the symptoms are depends upon how much of the brain has been damaged by the blockage and where the damage occurs. In the case of a sudden and dramatic change, we refer to this as a stroke. When the blockages are smaller and the damage gradually increases over time, the earliest symptoms involve problems with organizing thoughts, difficulty keeping track of more than one thing at a time, and having trouble telling a story in the proper order. Memory problems typically appear much later. Although not all strokes result in vascular dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic, about a third of the people who have a stroke will experience dementia within six months. In fact, most people with vascular dementia also have some Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes of vascular dementia include: High blood pressure, extremely low blood pressure, diabetes, and brain hemorrhages.


What are some symptoms of dementia in the late stages?

  • Memory loss that disrupts everyday life (e.g.. Not recognizing a close family member or forgetting their name).

  • Difficulty in performing familiar tasks (e.g., Cannot hem a skirt or get the power mower going even after doing these simple tasks throughout life).

  • Difficulty verbalizing (e.g., In trying to explain something, cannot remember familiar words, or cannot find the words to explain oneself).

  • Disorientation. Where am I? Where do I live? (e.g., Gets up from an afternoon nap and thinks it’s time for breakfast).

  • Loss of judgment (e.g., Doesn’t know what to do if food on the stove begins to burn).

  • Problems with abstract thinking (e.g., Can no longer balance their checkbook).

  • Misplacing things (e.g., Where did I put my wedding ring?)

  • Mood and behavior changes. (e.g., Can go from hot to cold in a few seconds; can be very accusatory of certain people).

  • Personality changes (e.g., Nice people can become nasty, suspicious, fearful).

  • Loss of initiative (e.g., Wants to sit in front of the television in a semi-daze for hours and not want to get up to do something different).
In the next Newsletter, we’ll talk about the best ways to respond to the signs that a loved one’s cognitive skills are slipping (e.g., their memory is progressively getting worse), and what may act as “triggers” in starting a dementia process. We will also describe ways to minimize the risk of triggering a dementia process.
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