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How Does Someone Get Dementia

Causes Of Alzheimer’s Disease

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of 2 proteins called amyloid and tau.

Deposits of amyloid, called plaques, build up around brain cells. Deposits of tau form “tangles” within brain cells.

Researchers do not fully understand how amyloid and tau are involved in the loss of brain cells, but research into this is continuing.

As brain cells become affected in Alzheimer’s, there’s also a decrease in chemical messengers involved in sending messages, or signals, between brain cells.

Levels of 1 neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, are particularly low in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Medicines like donepezil increase levels of acetylcholine, and improve brain function and symptoms.

These treatments are not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but they do help improve symptoms.

Read more about treatments for dementia.

The symptoms that people develop depend on the areas of the brain that have been damaged by the disease.

The hippocampus is often affected early on in Alzheimer’s disease. This area of the brain is responsible for laying down new memories. That’s why memory problems are one of the earliest symptoms in Alzheimer’s.

Unusual forms of Alzheimer’s disease can start with problems with vision or with language.

Read more about Alzheimer’s disease.

Common Forms Of Dementia

There are many different forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. Other major forms include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies , and a group of diseases that contribute to frontotemporal dementia . Dementia may also develop after a stroke or in the context of certain infections such as HIV, harmful use of alcohol, repetitive physical injuries to the brain or nutritional deficiencies. The boundaries between different forms of dementia are indistinct and mixed forms often co-exist.

Research Into The Genetics Of Dementia

Genes carry patterns for the many proteins that form our bodies. Proteins are the essential building blocks of life – forming cells, organs, and enzymes which help the body to function. Once they are made, proteins can be folded into different structures and shapes to fulfil their many functions. Genes are found in every cell in the body in packages of twisted DNA called chromosomes. Half of these chromosomes are inherited from each parent – providing the basis for genetic inheritance. Genes explain why family resemblances occur and why some diseases can run in families.

There is still much we don’t know about the role of genes in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, but researchers continue to study this area. In most cases, dementia occurs sporadically, is not directly caused by a single gene and has no clear pattern of family inheritance. However, in a minority of cases, Alzheimer’s disease and some other types of dementia can be directly caused by an inherited gene mutation. The table below summarises some of the genes that have been found to cause or be involved in dementia. Each type is discussed in more detail under the relevant section below.

Disorder

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What Conditions Can Be Mistaken For Dementia

The term dementia refers to a specific group of symptoms related to a decline in mental ability. Often, people who experience subtle short-term memory changes, are easily confused, or exhibit different behaviors or personality traits are mistakenly thought to have dementia. These symptoms could be the result of a variety of other conditions or disorders, including other neurocognitive disorders such as Parkinsons disease, brain growths or tumors, mild cognitive impairment , and mood disorders, like depression.

Dementia Stages: How Fast Dementia Progresses Stages Of Dementia And More

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Dementia is a progressive impairment of cognitive function caused by damage to the brain. Over time, a person with dementia will have increased difficulty with memory, understanding, communication, and reasoning.

Healthcare providers frequently speak about a persons dementia in terms of stages. This can be helpful for communicating with family or other healthcare providers regarding the persons illness, and it is important for determining an appropriate care plan.

How Fast Does Dementia Progress?

It is important to note that dementia progresses at different speeds for every person, and for different types of dementia. The most well-known form of dementia, Alzheimers disease, is just one specific type of dementia, and tends to have the slowest progression of all types. Some factors that affect the rate of progression include:

  • Age
  • Repeated infections

What are the Stages of Dementia?

There are a few different systems used to grade dementia — at the most basic there is early, moderate, and end. Many providers use the system developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg of New York University which includes 7 stages. The Reisberg scale is also known as the GDS or Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia. This scale focuses primarily on cognitive abilities.

Dementia Stages in the Reisberg Scale

Dementia Stages in the FAST Scale

Dementia Stages in the CDR Scale

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Do Try And Identify The Trigger That Causes Behavior Change

After spending some time with a patient who has dementia, caregivers may be in a position to identify some of the things that make dementia sufferers yell, get physical, or change their mood. For some, it may be something simple such as taking a bath or even getting dressed.

The best approach to handle this is not to force the patient to do something that they do not want to do. Try and distract them with something else that allows them to relax and calm down. Once they are not a danger to themselves or anyone around them, try going back to the subject, but this time reassuringly and calmly.

Key Points About Early

  • Alzheimer disease commonly affects older people, but early-onset Alzheimer disease can affect people in their 30s or 40s.

  • It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

  • Although there is no known cure, early diagnosis and treatment can lead to better quality of life.

  • Stay healthy with a good diet and regular exercise.

  • Avoid alcohol and other substances that may affect memory, thinking, and behavior.

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But What About Preventative Stuff

Finally, it depends on what type of appointment. Begin with the end in mind when it comes to specialty appointments and testing. Im not in any way saying people living with dementia deserve anything less in the way of care than anyone else.

What I am saying is theyre typically more medically fragile , and thats something that deserves consideration. Think carefully about routine mammograms, Pap smears, colonoscopies, and the like.

Do Not Get Angry Or Upset

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When looking after persons with dementia, practicing self-control is of utter importance. Learn how to breathe in and just relax without taking things personally or getting angry and upset. Remember that dementia patients do not act the way they do out of their own accord. It is the illness that makes them behave the way they do.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia

Early symptoms of dementia include :

  • Forgetting recent events or information
  • Repeating comments or questions over a very short period of time
  • Misplacing commonly used items or placing them in usual spots
  • Not knowing the date or time
  • Having difficulty coming up with the right words
  • Experiencing a change in mood, behavior or interests

Signs that dementia is getting worse include:

  • Ability to remember and make decisions further declines
  • Talking and finding the right words becomes more difficult
  • Daily complex tasks, such as brushing teeth, making a cup of coffee, working a tv remote, cooking, and paying bills become more challenging
  • Rational thinking and behavior and ability to problem solve lessen
  • Sleeping pattern change
  • Anxiety, frustration, confusion, agitation, suspiciousness, sadness and/or depression increase
  • More help with activities of daily living grooming, toileting, bathing, eating is needed
  • Hallucinations may develop

The symptoms mentioned above are general symptoms of dementia. Each person diagnosed with dementia has different symptoms, depending on what area of the brain is damaged. Additional symptoms and/or unique symptoms occur with specific types of dementia.

Get Your Parent/partner Ready

However long it takes you to get ready, double that number and tack on an extra 15 minutes. Throw on an extra 15 for unforeseen circumstances. Now youre in the ballpark.

Rather than being left to their own devices, most people need cueing and reminders to successfully get through the morning routine. For a detailed example sequence on how to do that, see Potty Talk: Successfully Navigating The Bathroom.

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How To Diagnose Alzheimers Vs Dementia

Alzheimers is a progressive and fatal brain disorder. Dementia is not a specific disease, but an umbrella term that defines a syndrome and used to refer to a specific group of symptoms related to a decline in mental ability. Alzheimers is one of the most common causes of dementia. Both Alzheimers and dementia are diagnosed using a variety of different assessments and tests, including a physical exam, lab tests, cognitive and neuropsychological tests, and an analysis of changes in behavior.

Do Not Keep Correcting The Patient

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People with dementia do not like it when someone keeps correcting them every time they say something that may not be right. It makes them feel bad about themselves and can make them drift out of the conversation. Discussions should be humorous and light and one should always speak slowly and clearly using simple and short sentences to capture and keep the interest of the dementia patients.

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Check Their Advance Care Plan

You should find out if the person has an advance care plan. This document may record their preferences about the care theyd like to receive, including what they want to happen, what they dont want to happen and who they want to speak on their behalf. It may include an advance statement or an advance decision. We have information on planning ahead for patients and their families, which you might find useful.

Signs Of The Dying Process

As someones condition gets worse and they are within a few days or hours of dying, further changes are common. The person may:

  • deteriorate more quickly than before
  • lose consciousness
  • develop an irregular breathing pattern
  • have a chesty or rattly sound to their breathing
  • have cold hands and feet.

These changes are part of the dying process when the person is often unaware of what is happening.

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Understand Why Someone With Dementia Says Mean Things

First, its important to understand why this hurtful behavior is happening.

Dementia is a brain disease that causes parts of the brain to shrink and lose their function, resulting in cognitive impairment.

These different parts control functions like memory, personality, behavior, and speech. Dementia also damages the ability to control impulses, which means actions arent intentional.

Even though its difficult, do your best to remember that they truly dont intend the mean things they say.

These mean comments and hurtful accusations often happen because the person is unable to express whats actually bothering them.

It could be triggered by something in their environment that causes discomfort, pain, fear, anxiety, helplessness, confusion, or frustration.

Working to accept the fact that theyre not doing this on purpose helps reduce stress and makes their behavior easier to manage.

The overall strategy is to take a deep breath, remind yourself that its not personal, take care of immediate discomfort or fear, and try to find the cause behind the behavior.

Next, look for long-term solutions that will help you get the support and rest you need to keep your cool in challenging situations like these.

How Dementia Seems To Come And Go

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In one study, charts of dementia patients were reviewed during a two-year period. The researcher scanned the charts for mentions of good days and bad days. The most common characteristics? Most of the patients lived with their caregivers . Most were recently diagnosed with mild dementia. About half were taking cholinesterase inhibitors, a category of drugs used to treat Alzheimers. Good days most often involved enhanced mood, better concentration and improved ability to perform IADLs . Bad days were characterized by increased verbal repetition, anger, irritability, forgetfulness, delusions and declining mood.

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What Are The Signs That Someone With Dementia Is Dying

It is difficult to know when a person with dementia is coming to the end of their life. However, there are some symptoms that may indicate the person is at the end of their life including:

  • limited speech
  • needing help with everyday activities
  • eating less and swallowing difficulties
  • incontinence and becoming bed bound.

When these are combined with frailty, recurrent infections and/or pressure ulcers, the person is likely to be nearing the end of their life. If the person has another life limiting condition , their condition is likely to worsen in a more predictable way.

When a person gets to within a few days or hours of dying, further changes are common. These include:

  • deteriorating more quickly
  • irregular breathing
  • cold hands and feet.

These are part of the dying process, and its important to be aware of them so that you can help family and friends understand what is happening.

When a person with dementia is at the end of life its important to support the person to be as comfortable as possible until they die

For more information, see our page, Signs that someone is in their last days or hours.

What Are The Different Types Of Dementia

Various disorders and factors contribute to the development of dementia. Neurodegenerative disorders result in a progressive and irreversible loss of neurons and brain functioning. Currently, there are no cures for these diseases.

The five most common forms of dementia are:

  • Alzheimers disease, the most common dementia diagnosis among older adults. It is caused by changes in the brain, including abnormal buildups of proteins, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
  • Frontotemporal dementia, a rare form of dementia that tends to occur in people younger than 60. It is associated with abnormal amounts or forms of the proteins tau and TDP-43.
  • Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies.
  • Vascular dementia, a form of dementia caused by conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
  • Mixed dementia, a combination of two or more types of dementia.

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Do Make Sure That The Dementia Patient Gets Enough Rest Food And Water

Fatigue, hunger and thirst may cause combativeness. Ensure that the person with dementia is well fed, hydrates enough, and gets adequate sleep and rest. In line with this, they should also have enough bathroom breaks. Research also shows that it may help to reduce loud noises as well as clutter in the space where the patient spends most of his/her time, as both loud noises and clutter tend to over-stimulate people with dementia.

How Long Will A Person With Dementia Live For

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Dementia is a life-limiting condition, but it is very difficult to know how long someone with dementia will live for. This depends on many factors.

If the person also has another life-limiting condition , it may be clearer how long they may live for and how they will die.

A person may die from another condition at any stage of having dementia. Because of this, they may die before their dementia symptoms become very advanced.

A person in the later stages of dementia may get worse slowly over many months. During this time they will usually:

  • become more frail
  • have more frequent falls or infections
  • have problems eating, drinking and swallowing
  • be more likely to need urgent medical care
  • become less mobile
  • sleep more
  • talk less often.

A person in the later stages of dementia is likely to have a weak immune system. This means they have a higher risk of getting infections, which in some cases can last for a long time. One of the most common causes of death for people with dementia is pneumonia caused by an infection.

A person in the later stages of dementia may have symptoms that suggest that they are close to death, but can sometimes live with these symptoms for many months. This uncertainty makes it very difficult to plan and put things in place for the end of someones life.

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What Is Dementia And What Causes It

Dementia is a syndrome that causes a person to develop difficulty and problems with their memory or their ability to think. Unlike the normal changes that happen in a persons memory and thinking over time, dementia affects someones ability to function in their daily life activities and their normal routine .There are different causes of dementia. These causes are typically underlying neurological conditions . One common cause of dementia is Alzheimers disease. Other causes include diseases that impact brain blood vessels. For example, strokes may cause what is commonly termed Vascular Dementia. Some causes include Lewy Body Disease and Parkinsons disease.

Symptoms Specific To Frontotemporal Dementia

Although Alzheimer’s disease is still the most common type of dementia in people under 65, a higher percentage of people in this age group may develop frontotemporal dementia than older people. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 45-65.

Early symptoms of frontotemporal dementia may include:

  • personality changes reduced sensitivity to others’ feelings, making people seem cold and unfeeling
  • lack of social awareness making inappropriate jokes or showing a lack of tact, though some people may become very withdrawn and apathetic
  • language problems difficulty finding the right words or understanding them
  • becoming obsessive such as developing fads for unusual foods, overeating and drinking

Read more about frontotemporal dementia.

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