The Causes of Dementia

Dementia takes many forms. Symptoms differ depending on the stage of the disease and the reason behind the cognitive impairment.

Signs and Symptoms

Dementia symptoms vary from person to person, but commonly manifest in three stages.

In the early stage, symptoms are relatively mild. In fact, the onset of dementia often goes unnoticed because the signs can come on gradually. During this stage, the affected person might lose track of time, get lost in familiar places or become forgetful.

In the middle stage, symptoms are more pronounced. Not only might the person become lost in familiar places out in the world, but also at home. He or she might forget important names and things that recently happened. The person might have trouble communicating, but also may ask a lot of questions. Personal care becomes more challenging, requiring help from others. Personality changes are common at this point in the disease.

By the late stage, the changes brought on by dementia are marked. The person might not recognize familiar people or places and may have lost touch with time. Dependence on others for personal care and mobility increases more and more. Unfortunately, personality and behavior changes can be striking, and caregivers might notice increased aggression.

Various Causes of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the best known cause of cognitive impairment, but other diseases can also lead to dementia. The various forms affect the brain in different ways, and each presents its own unique set of symptoms.

  • Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be responsible for 60-70 percent of dementia cases. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, but the disease involves trademark changes to the brain, including protein buildup between nerve cells. Early stage dementia can manifest as depression, and forgetfulness with names, places and recent events also shows up near the start of the disease.

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies also involves a buildup of protein clumps in the brain. However, Lewy body proteins are different from the proteins that cause clumps in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. Early-stage patients may deal with visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and muscle problems.

  • Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. This type of dementia is also known as vascular cognitive impairment and can happen after a major stroke, repeated minor strokes or other blood vessel problems. 20-30% percent of dementia is related to vascular dementia. Rather than the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia patients first deal with indecision, disorganization and poor judgment calls.

  • Frontotemporal dementia happens when the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain shrink as nerve cells are lost. There are several diseases, including Pick’s disease, that can contribute to frontotemporal dementia. With this type of dementia, patients experience communication troubles and changes in their behavior and personality.

Dementia does not always fall neatly into one of these categories. Many patients have more than one type. This cases are known as mixed dementia.

If you or someone you know is experiencing some of these dementia symptoms, consult a healthcare provider. Although there is no cure for cognitive decline, your doctor can suggest ways to maximize the patient’s well-being, provide caregiver support and keep an eye on the progress of the disease.