Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of a number of underlying diseases and brain disorders. Put simply, nerve cells in the brain become damaged. Cells that are harmed cannot communicate with other cells. Depending on what part of the brain is impaired individuals are affected differently. The way individuals think, behave, feel, remember and move are affected. What causes this to happen?
Ø Brain cells (neurons) breaking down and dying.
This is known as neurodegeneration. Over time, as the cells die, there is a progressive and permanent decrease in mental and physical functioning. Types of dementia that result from this process include:
· Alzheimer’s Disease
· Dementia with Lewy Bodies
· Frontotemporal Dementias
· Parkinson’s Disease Dementia
Ø Damage to blood vessels in the brain
Called cerebrovascular damage, this is usually caused by a haemorrhage, malformation, or a blockage: often the result of a stroke, heart disease, and/or hardening of the blood vessels supplying the brain. Localised areas of the brain are destroyed because of lack of blood supply. The outcome is known as:
· Vascular or Multi-Infarct Dementia
Viruses, bacteria and parasites can destroy brain cells and cause dementia. This is usually in the late stage of severe infections. The most common being:
· Creutzfeldt-Jackob Disease
· Dementia associated with HIV/AIDS
Ø Chemical imbalances in the body
Chemical imbalance can be initiated by alcoholism, drug use, malnutrition and exposure to poisonous substances such as lead and other heavy metals or other biological conditions. This includes:
· Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Ø Traumatic brain injuries
Usually the result of serious injuries and concussions to the head and brain sustained in an accident or a fall.
Bear in mind that individuals can be affected by more than one type of dementia at the same time. Often referred to as ‘Mixed Dementia’. Heredity also has a role to play. The most common types of dementia are:
· Alzheimer’s Disease - affects 60-80% of people
· Vascular Dementia - affects up to 20% of people
· Dementia with Lewy Bodies – affects about 15% of people
· Frontotemporal Dementias – relatively rare
Reducing the risk
Alzheimer’s Society informs us that 1 in 14 people over 65 have dementia in the UK. Adopting a healthy life style decreases the risk and can sometimes slow the progression of the disease. This includes not smoking, eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, socializing and doing activities which stimulate the mind such as puzzles, reading, etc. In general, anything that protects the heart, keeps the mind active and contributes to well-being will also protect the brain.
Copyright – Robin Dynes April 2020