Dementia Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of dementia can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of dementia.

Understanding Dementia

Learn about dementia

Problems with attention, difficulty remembering new information, language disturbances, logical reasoning problems, and problem-solving issues are all symptoms that are associated with dementia. Dementia is a broad category of neurocognitive disorders that cause an individual to suffer from long-term loss of the ability to think and reason properly, which typically results in an inability to adequately function on a daily basis. Other symptoms commonly associated with dementia include emotional issues, lack of motivation, changes in personality, and the development of behavioral problems. Currently, it is believed that there are as many as 50 different identified causes that lead to the onset of dementia. Furthermore, dementia can be classified in a number of different ways depending on the area of the brain that has been damaged and the symptoms that have developed as a result of that damage.

Dementia is known to be a progressive disease, meaning that the symptoms will gradually get worse over time. Since most forms of dementia are incurable, treatment focuses on symptom management and on helping a person to remain self-sufficient for as long as possible. However, there are some forms of dementia, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or certain infections, which can be reversible with treatment. In either case, it is essential that treatment for dementia be sought immediately in order to ensure a better outcome.

Statistics

Dementia statistics

As a whole, it is believed that dementia affects approximately 24 million people throughout the world and is believed to be one of the world’s most rapidly growing disease. Furthermore, it has been reported to affect as many as 1% of adults over the age of 60 and it is estimated that this frequency will continue to double every 5 years after individuals reach the age of 60. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 1 out of every 9 older adults in America and is believed to be the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for dementia

Generally speaking, dementia is caused by some form of damage to the cells of the brain. When it occurs, this damage prevents the brain cells from being able to properly communicate with one another, which can result in individuals no longer being able to effectively communicate, think, and behave. Additionally, a person’s emotions and feelings can become adversely effected. Some of the various causes that can lead to brain cell damage and result in the development of dementia may include:

Genetic: Multiple research studies have concluded that there are specific genetic mutations that occur which can make a person more susceptible to the development of dementia, suggesting a hereditary link to this disease. Furthermore, the genes that put a person at an increased risk for this disease are broken down into two categories: deterministic genes and risk genes, both of which have been identified in people suffering from certain kinds of dementia.

Physical: Studies have also shown that dementia is the result of the cells in the cerebral cortex degenerating. Since this part of the brain controls a person’s memory, thoughts, actions, and some aspects of personality, cell death in this area can cause the symptoms of this disease to develop.

Environmental: It is commonly believed that certain aspects of the environment have played a role in the development of dementia. Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins has been shown to put a person at a higher risk for developing dementia.

Risk Factors:

  • Increased age
  • Family history of dementia
  • Exposure to certain toxins
  • Having Down syndrome
  • Suffering from infections that affect the brain, like HIV or syphilis
  • Heavy alcohol use or smoking
  • Being obese
  • High cholesterol
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Certain medications

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dementia

The symptoms of dementia will vary greatly from person to person, however, in order to receive a diagnosis of dementia, two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired. These include: memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception. In addition to impairment in those previously mentioned areas, dementia can also lead to the development of a variety of other symptoms. These signs and symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Repeatedly asks the same questions
  • Often gets lost or disoriented in familiar places
  • Engages in inappropriate behavior
  • No longer able to follow instructions
  • Suddenly requires assistance to perform complex tasks
  • Language difficulties
  • Neglects personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition
  • Experiences difficulty with organizing and planning
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unprovoked violent behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Gait, motor, and balance problems
  • Malnutrition and/or dehydration
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tremors
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Has faulty reasoning
  • Disorientation to time or place
  • May not recognize familiar people
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Impaired perception
  • Comprehension disturbances
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Personality changes
  • Anger or rage
  • Paranoia
  • Increased agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Significant mood swings that are unusual for the individual

Effects

Effects of dementia

Any form of dementia has the ability to affect the functioning of multiple systems located throughout the body, which then results in one having difficulty being able to carry out daily tasks in a normal fashion. With the inability to properly function on a day-to-day basis, dementia has the ability to lead to the development of several problems, including:

  • Inadequate nutrition due to a reduction of, or cessation of, eating and drinking
  • Reduced hygiene because of the inability to complete daily living tasks
  • Increased levels of aggression
  • Deterioration of emotional health
  • Changes in personality
  • Personal safety challenges
  • Development of depression, anxiety, and/or aggression
  • Trouble communicating with others, which can lead to feelings of agitation and isolation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Dementia and co-occurring disorders

When a person has dementia, it is fairly common for them to also face the challenges brought on by another mental health disorder or medical condition. The most common mental disorders or health conditions that may co-exist with dementia can include:

  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Depressive disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Specific phobias
  • Substance use disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Traumatic brain injury

What Past Clients Say

I came here during the worst time of my life. I had so much anxiety coming in but the girls in the admissions area were so pleasant and answered all my questions. The hospital was clean and staff were friendly and helpful on the unit. The medicine they gave me helped so much, and I finally feel like myself again. If you’re willing to participate and go to all the groups, you will get something out of the program. I went right from inpatient to their day program for a week afterwards, and that helped me stay focused too.

– Alumni
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