Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the number one cause of dementia, representing 50-60% of all cases. This cause is also known as senile dementia. In the majority of cases, Alzheimer’s disease appears over the age of 65, though doctors usually include Alzheimer’s in their lists of possible causes of dementia after the age of 40. Even though Alzheimer’s disease cannot be confirmed until after death, with an examination of brain tissue, doctors can diagnose the illness in a patient with 90% truthfulness.

Dementia is marked by loss of memory, impaired cognitive abilities, and behavioral and mood changes that get in the way with a person’s daily life. Dementia also refers to a progressive deterioration of these symptoms and is not usually signified by a sudden onset of problems. There are various causes of dementia. A doctor determines the specific cause, after a series of neurological, psychological, and laboratory tests.

The second most likely cause of dementia is known as vascular dementia. Vascular dementia, which accounts for approximately 20% of dementia cases, occurs when a patient has suffered a series of mini-strokes. The strokes usually are not detected at the time, but each stroke does damages brain cells. Eventually, the damage will accumulate, and a patient will begin to show symptoms of dementia. Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease sometimes come in tandem.

Dementia with Lewy bodies ties for the second most likely cause with vascular dementia, representing another 20% of dementia cases. Like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies cannot be confirmed until after death. The term Lewy bodies refers to abnormal concentrations of protein in brain nerve tissue. A patient with dementia with Lewy bodies usually shows a loss of the ability to concentrate, language issues, an incapability to judge distances or problem solve, and occasionally they will experience visual hallucinations. Patients with Lewy bodies often develop Parkinson’s disease in addition to their dementia.

Patients with late stage Huntington’s disease often show signs of dementia, as the disease begins destroying brain cells. Parkinson’s disease in some patients leads to dementia in its last stages as well.

Pick’s disease, or frontal lobe dementia, is another possible culprit behind the symptoms. This type of dementia usually occurs earlier than the other kinds of dementia, with onset common in the 40s. Because the frontal lobe, which controls behavior and emotion, is affected, Pick’s disease is usually characterized by personality or behavioral changes.

HIV infection can cause dementia as soon as two days after exposure to the virus. This type of dementia is called AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC). Another possible virus linked to dementia is Creutzfeldt-Jakobs Disease (CJD). CJD gained notoriety in the 1990s in the UK as so called “mad cow disease” and the fear over contaminated beef causing the disease. The actual proof of mad cow disease causing a CJD outbreak is tenuous at best – in fact, at this point, scientists are not even sure CJD is actually caused by a virus, or if that virus is caused by mad cow disease.

Other causes of dementia are easier to identify and in some cases, even avoid. Alcohol dependency can lead to dementia as a disease called Korsakoff’s syndrome. Korsakoff’s syndrome leads to short-term memory loss and is thought to be caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency in alcoholics. Long-term drug addiction may also cause dementia, and even some over the counter drugs cause dementia if a patient has a bad reaction to them. Hormone imbalances, such as those caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis/hypothyrodism, can cause dementia, as can vitamin imbalances. Severe cases of depression cause patients to experience memory related problems, and any variety of infection or virus present in a patient’s system, including encephalitis, meningitis, or syphilis, can present symptoms of dementia. Additionally, head injury victims may also experience dementia.

Determining the root cause of a patient’s dementia is of the utmost importance to physicians, so they can implement the best course of treatment. Though some dementias are curable and some are not, all types of dementia gain from early diagnosis. Sometimes the progression of the dementia can at least be slowed with the help of medication. Because so many types of dementia share overlapping systems, a doctor will need to carry out a full battery of tests and view the results with a complete knowledge of the patient’s medical history to develop the complete picture.

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