This is intended as a guide to increase awareness. Print this page then track the symptoms you observe in a loved one in order to have a more productive session with his/her doctor.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term describing cognitive impairment due to a dozen different and sometimes overlapping causes. According to the World Health Organization, there are 36 million people living with dementia worldwide with one new diagnosis every 4 seconds–that’s 7.7 million people per year. Most of the types of dementia are irreversible, meaning there is no cure … yet. Below, we’ll look at the leading causes of dementia. Next week, we’ll address the remaining and rarer forms of dementia.
Leading causes of dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. Almost 60% of people diagnosed with dementia are living with Alzheimer’s, which lasts anywhere from 8 – 20 years. If you’re lucky enough to live until age 85, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s rise to almost 50%. Yet, there are those who have shown Alzheimer’s-like symptoms as early as in their 30s. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a handy guideline (click on the link) The 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Because of the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and the efforts by the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations to raise awareness, the term Alzheimer’s is often used to describe dementia in general. However, the other leading causes of dementia are quite different.
Vascular dementia is one of two secondary leading causes of dementia. Ten percent of those diagnosed with dementia live with this type. According to Johns Hopkins, vascular dementia is the result of a series of tiny strokes (known as infarcts) that destroy brain cells. One mini stroke may barely have an effect, but many mini-strokes over time can destroy enough brain cells to impair memory, language, and other cognitive functions. Although, unscientific, I have observed a stepwise decline among those living with this disease, including moments where one’s face freezes (likely during a TIA or mini stroke).
Lewy body disease is the second of the two leading causes of dementia after Alzheimer’s. Oftentimes, mistaken for Alzheimer’s due to memory impairment or Parkinson’s due to stiffness or difficulty moving, dementia with Lewy bodies according to the Mayo Clinic [Link updated 9/7/2017] results from protein deposits that affect thinking, memory, and movement. Although similar, the difference among those diagnosed with Lewy body dementia is how much their sleep is affected–from “night terrors” described by Norman McNamara in the UK to acting out dreams as described by 43-year old Steve Coleman in Australia. The Lewy Body Dementia Association offers quick overview of Lewy body dementia.
Parkinson’s disease used to be cited as the second or third leading cause of dementia with as many as 30% of people with dementia. Fortunately, Michael J. Fox’s new television series about a man with Parkinson’s going back to work will help to raise greater awareness about this cause of dementia, lasting 25 to 30 years. The symptoms start with occasional tremors or stiffness and progress into speech impairment, reasoning, and can affect cognition later in the disease cycle.
Next week, we’ll overview the remaining and rarer causes of dementia.