Dementia Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with dementia?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Dementia

Learn about dementia

Dementia is an illness marked by the presence of severe problems with respect to a person’s memory and other areas of cognitive functioning. It occurs when there is a significant loss of brain function, which leads to the malfunctioning of one’s memory, as well as changes in behavior. Dementia also results in the impairment of one’s ability to think clearly, one’s ability to use language appropriately, and one’s ability to use sound judgment. There are many different forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. When dementia causes the decline in one’s memory and other thinking skills so severely that it begins to have a negative impact on the individual’s ability to function appropriately on a daily basis, medical treatment may be required.

Statistics

Dementia statistics

Dementia is believed to be one of the world’s fastest growing diseases. It has been estimated that there are approximately 24 million people worldwide who are living with some form of dementia. In America, the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, affects around 13% of individuals over the age of 65.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for dementia

When a person suffers from any type of disease in the brain, there are multiple factors that come into play regarding its development. The following are some examples of various causes and risk factors that have been known to contribute to the onset of dementia:

Genetic: A person’s genetic makeup can have a significant impact on whether or not that person will develop dementia. Studies have shown that people who have a blood relative (most notably a parent or sibling) that suffers from some form of dementia are more likely to develop the disease than people who do not have the same family history. When there is more than one family member suffering from the disease, the risk increases.

Physical: Dementia is typically caused by a degeneration of cells in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling a person’s thoughts, memories, actions, and aspects of his or her personality. The death of the brain cells in this area results in the development of cognitive impairment, leading to onset of dementia.

Environmental: It is believed that environmental factors can play a role in the development of dementia. Studies have shown that when people are exposed to certain chemicals, such as lead, particulate air pollution, and aluminum, they are at risk for experiencing a decline in cognition. It is also believed that when people are exposed to these types of toxic chemicals, their risk for developing a cognitive decline at an earlier age increases.

Risk Factors:

  • Increasing in age
  • Suffering from a brain injury
  • Having infections that affect the brain such as syphilis or HIV/AIDS
  • History of Parkinson’s disease
  • History of Huntington’s disease
  • History of multiple sclerosis
  • Exposure to chemicals

Additionally, there are some risk factors that can be controlled through behavior changes early in one’s life. These manageable risk factors can include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Having high or low blood pressure
  • Having high cholesterol

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dementia

The signs and symptoms that indicate that someone is suffering from dementia will vary in type and severity from person to person depending upon a number of different factors, including the form of dementia that he or she is suffering from and the length of time in which the symptoms have gone unaddressed. The following are some examples of various signs and symptoms that an individual suffering from dementia may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased restlessness
  • Marked changes in behavior, such as becoming rude, aggressive, or overly-friendly
  • Misplacing commonly used items
  • Loss of the ability to perform familiar tasks
  • Language disturbances (e.g. having difficulty putting thoughts into words)
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Social withdrawal
  • Violent behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Personal hygiene may be ignored
  • Tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Impaired motor functioning
  • Poor balance
  • Sleep disturbances, often waking up in the middle of the night
  • Sudden weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired ability to plan
  • Poor judgment
  • Impaired reasoning
  • Decreased ability to pay attention
  • Comprehension disturbances
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Impaired ability to think in abstract ways
  • Loss of object recognition
  • Impaired orientation (i.e. not oriented to person, place, time, and/or self)
  • Impaired perception

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Being overly suspicious
  • Increased agitation

Effects

Effects of dementia

The effects of dementia can negatively impact both the individual suffering from the symptoms, as well as the people in that person’s life. The following are some examples of the different effects that can occur when a person is suffering dementia.

  • Increased levels of aggression
  • Becoming suspicious of other people, resulting in the distrust of loved ones
  • Repeating questions or participating in repetitive activities
  • Forgetting his or her friends and family
  • Long-term memory loss

Co-Occurring Disorders

Dementia and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for dementia to occur alongside other types of illnesses. Some examples of the various disorders that have been known to co-exist with dementia include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease

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