Dementia: Symptoms, Risk Factors and Prevention
According to WHO, in 2015, there were more than 46 million people with dementia worldwide. In 2017, this figure has increased to 50 million. Each year, 7.7 million new cases of dementia are registered, each of which is becoming a heavy burden for families and health systems. It is expected that this number will increase to 131.5 million by 2050. What does dementia look like and what factors influence it in our article today.
Symptoms and stages of the disease
The disease that is most associated with old age and that scares everyone – senile dementia. Patients undergo degradation of memory, thinking and understanding. Dementia develops passing through 3 stages. The first signs of the onset of the disease include forgetfulness, loss of time perception, and a disruption of orientation in previously familiar places. As the disease develops, the symptoms become more severe. During the middle stage of dementia, a person can begin to forget even recent events and names, starts to be poorly oriented at home. In addition, it becomes more difficult for people around to care for a person with dementia – there is a need for help in caring for oneself, and communication with others becomes more difficult. For example, a patient may walk around aimlessly or ask the same questions from time to time. Apogee dementia reaches in the third (or late) stage, when the patient becomes almost completely dependent on other people. Behavior changes (for example, it becomes more aggressive), passivity increases. Orientation in time and space is severely disrupted, and a person with dementia does not recognize friends and relatives or does it with difficulty.
After the diagnosis of “dementia”, patients live for about seven years on average. The increased mortality is due to the disease itself in 70% of cases, and most often the immediate causes are pneumonia and dehydration of the body. Other associated disorders also reduce the life expectancy of patients. At the same time, the prognosis of survival in women is more favorable than that of men.
Forms of dementia
Dementia does not appear the same in all patients. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common “version” of dementia – it accounts for 60-70% of all cases. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are exactly what we usually imagine when we talk about dementia, ie. are mainly associated with memory loss. Other common forms include vascular dementia, dementia with Levi bodies (abnormal protein inclusions formed within the nerve cells) and a group of diseases that promote the development of frontotemporal dementia (frontal lobe degeneration). However, there are no clear boundaries between the different forms of dementia, and often dementia shows mixed symptoms.
Dementia: Risk factors
Perhaps the most famous risk factor for dementia is advanced age (usually older than 65 years). However, this disease affects more young people: in 9% of cases, symptoms can manifest up to 65 years of life.
One of the risk factors, as in other diseases, is a lifestyle. A person can live a long time, taking proper care of the body. Earlier we already wrote in detail about useful habits that prolong life. Other potential risk factors include depression, poor education, social isolation and lack of cognitive activity. There are also studies that some types of hormone therapy are capable of increasing the risk of dementia, but the exact results confirming or refuting this until none of them have been able to give.
Prevention of dementia
Unfortunately, international studies, designed to assess whether a measure is capable of slowing or preventing the onset of the disease, often produce conflicting results. Therefore, while there are no precise data on the preventive action of these or those measures, However, certain trends have been identified that may possibly reduce the risk of dementia. As mentioned above, the correction of factors such as diet (for example, the Mediterranean diet, coconut oil, turmeric and the intake of vitamins B12, B3, C and folic acid), the risk of cardiovascular diseases, medication, thought activity and others can affect the likelihood and the rate of development of the disease.
Activities that stimulate the intellect, such as reading, table games, solving crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, regular communication, may be able to slow the onset of the disease or to soften its development. Knowledge of the two languages is associated with the later onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Also, psychotechnics, based on the practice of mindfulness, can prevent the onset of mild cognitive impairment and the development of dementia in general and Alzheimer’s disease in particular.
Treatment and care
Alzheimer’s disease can not be cured. Available therapies are capable of affecting the symptoms to a small extent, but are inherently palliative measures. Nevertheless, numerous new medicines are currently being researched, which are at various stages of clinical trials.
To facilitate the life of patients suffering from dementia and their families, the following options exist:
- early diagnosis to ensure early and optimal management;
- identification and treatment of concomitant physical illness;
- identification and treatment of behavioral and psychological symptoms;
- optimization of physical health, cognitive abilities, activity and well-being;
- providing information and long-term support for caregivers.
Text: Dmitry Bratyshev
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