Dementia is an umbrella term for all progressive neuro-degenerative conditions which affect the brain and are severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily activities and normal functioning. It generally affects elderly population above the age of 60, but is not a normal process of ageing. Unfortunately there is no cure for Alzheimer's and dementia, but certain conditions are reversible.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause for dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. It is important to note that dementia can have multiple causes and may be due to a combination of factors including repeated head injuries or severe traumatic brain injuries that can lead to dementia later in life.
Dementia remains a hidden epidemic in India, much due to ignorance and stigma surrounding the disease.
People living with Dementia in India today
One new person diagnosed every 3 sec
Cost of care today - will increase 3x by 2036
The symptoms of dementia can vary depending on the underlying cause slowly losing the skills acquired over the years. Some common symptoms include:
Memory loss: This is often the first symptom of dementia. It may start as forgetting recent events or conversations, and progress to forgetting familiar people and places.
Difficulty with language: People with dementia may have trouble finding the right words or expressing themselves. They may also have difficulty understanding what others are saying.
Disorientation: Dementia can cause confusion about time and place. People with dementia may get lost in familiar places or have trouble remembering how to get home.
Difficulty with basic tasks: As dementia progresses, people may have difficulty with everyday tasks such as dressing, bathing, and using the toilet.
Personality changes: Dementia can cause changes in mood and behaviour. People may become more agitated or withdrawn, and may exhibit inappropriate behaviours.
Poor judgment: People with dementia may make poor decisions or have trouble with planning and problem-solving.
Loss of initiative: Dementia can cause apathy and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
It is important to note that some of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions, so it's important to see a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis. Additionally, dementia symptoms can vary widely from person to person and can progress at different rates.
1. Neurological diseases including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and some types of multiple sclerosis.
2. Vascular disorders. These are disorders that affect the blood circulation in your brain, eg. Stroke
3. Traumatic brain injuries caused by car accidents, falls, concussions, etc.
4. Infections of the central nervous system. These include meningitis, HIV, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
5. Long-time alcohol or drug use
1. Alzheimer’s Disease: This is the most common form of dementia and accounts for an estimated 60-80% of cases. It is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. The disease starts mild and gets progressively worse
2. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: Also called mad-cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs in cattle, and has been transmitted to people under certain circumstances. It is a rapidly fatal disorder that impairs memory and coordination, and causes behavior changes.
3. Dementia with Lewy bodies: It is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The condition causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. In Lewy body dementia, protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in regions of the brain involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control).
4. Fronto-temporal Dementia: Fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) affects the brain in frontal and temporal lobes, which control planning and judgment; emotions, speaking and understanding speech; and certain types of movement. It’s also known as Pick’s Disease.
5. Huntington’s Disease: Huntington’s disease is a genetic brain disorder caused by a single defective gene on chromosome 4 — one of the 23 human chromosomes that carry a person’s entire genetic code. Symptoms of Huntington’s disease usually develop between ages 30 and 50, but they can appear as early as age 2 or as late as 80.
6. Mixed Dementia: in mixed dementia, abnormalities linked to more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously in the brain.
7. Vascular Dementia: Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia. The brain is damaged either due to repeated small strokes causing lack of blood supply (ischemic) or small bleeds (hemorrhagic). The arteries in the brain can get damaged due to hypertension, diabetes and cardiac problems. Vascular dementia also affects memory, planning, motor moments and thinking like Alzheimer’s, however, the progression here is step-wise.
8. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: It is a chronic memory disorder caused by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1). The most common cause is alcohol misuse. It leads to memory issues and loss of social skills. This condition is reversible and can be treated.
There is no definitive diagnosis for dementia; diagnosis is made by a process of elimination of alternatives. This process involves:
Medical history – past and current medical problems, family medical history, any medications being taken, and the problems with memory, thinking or behaviour that are causing concern
Physical examination – tests of the senses and movement function, as well as heart and lung function, to help rule out other conditions
Laboratory tests – a variety of blood and urine tests to identify any possible illness which could be responsible for the symptoms
Neuropsychological or cognitive testing – a variety of tests are used to assess thinking abilities including memory, language, attention and problem solving.
Brain imaging – there are certain scans that look at the structure of the brain and are used to rule out brain tumours or blood clots in the brain as the reason for symptoms, and to detect patterns of brain tissue loss that can differentiate between different types of dementia.
Psychiatric assessment – to identify treatable disorders such as depression, and to manage any psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety or delusions which may occur alongside dementia.
Dementia is a non-reversible, progressive condition, which means that it typically worsens over time. The rate of progression can vary depending on the underlying cause of dementia and other factors such as age and overall health. Here are some general stages of dementia progression:
Early stage: In the early stage of dementia, symptoms are mild and may not be noticeable to others. Memory loss and difficulty with language and problem-solving may be present, but the person is still able to perform most daily activities independently.
Middle stage: As dementia progresses to the middle stage, symptoms become more noticeable and begin to interfere with daily activities. Memory loss becomes more severe, and the person may become disoriented and have difficulty with basic tasks such as dressing and bathing. Behavioural and personality changes may also become more prominent.
Late stage: In the late stage of dementia, symptoms are severe and the person requires full-time care. Memory loss is profound, and the person may not recognize familiar people or places. Communication may become very difficult, and the person may have trouble swallowing and controlling bodily functions.
There is no cure for dementia, but early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life. Treatment may include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet. Caregivers can also play an important role in supporting people with dementia, by providing emotional support, assistance with daily tasks, and creating a safe and supportive environment. A dementia specialist can help chalk-out a detailed care plan to help in the management.
Current evidence-based treatments that are partially effective are available for most core symptoms of dementia. These treatments are all symptomatic, that is, they can ameliorate a particular symptom, but do not alter the progressive course of the disease. Treatment basically is directed towards the management of the cognitive, behavioural and the ADL symptoms of dementia.
The two broad interventions for management are:
a) Pharmacological Interventions: There are a number of drugs available for the management of dementia however these will have to be administered only under the guidance of a medical practitioner.
b) Psychological Interventions: Research has shown that cognitive stimulation and psychological interventions can provide benefits in the early stages of the disease. In the later stages, they are not of much use for the cognitive symptoms. Interventions can be provided at low cost and have shown an effect on decreasing caregiver strain.
Here are some aspects of care that can be considered while managing care for a loved one with dementia:
Quality of life in dementia care: Refers to the overall well-being and satisfaction of individuals with dementia, as well as their ability to engage in meaningful activities, maintain relationships, and experience positive emotions. It involves not just physical health, but also emotional, social, and spiritual health.
Person-centred care: An approach to dementia care that focuses on the individual's needs, preferences, and goals This approach recognizes that each person with dementia is unique, with their own personality, history, and way of interacting with the world. It also involves taking a holistic approach to care, addressing not just the physical needs of the person with dementia but also their emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
Dementia can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in older adults. The risk of developing dementia increases with age, and most people with dementia are 65 or older. However, it is important to note that dementia is not a normal part of aging and not all older adults will develop dementia.
Some factors that can increase the risk of developing dementia include:
Genetics: Having a family history of dementia can increase the risk of developing the condition.
Lifestyle factors: Unhealthy lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in saturated and trans fats, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Chronic health conditions: Chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can increase the risk of developing dementia.
Head injuries: Repeated head injuries or severe traumatic brain injuries have been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Depression: Depression can increase the risk of developing dementia, and people with dementia may be more likely to experience depression.
Social isolation: Social isolation and lack of social engagement have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
It's important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop dementia. However, taking steps to reduce risk factors and maintain a healthy lifestyle can help promote brain health and reduce the risk of developing dementia.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent dementia, there are several things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing the condition. Here are some tips:
Stay physically active: Regular exercise has been shown to help reduce the risk of dementia. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats (such as those found in fish and nuts) can help promote brain health.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Keep your brain active: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, playing games, or learning a new skill, may help reduce the risk of dementia.
Manage chronic health conditions: Chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can increase the risk of dementia. Working with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions can help reduce your risk.
Stay socially engaged: Social isolation and lack of social engagement have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Stay connected with friends and family, and consider joining a social group or volunteering in your community.
Protect your head: Repeated head injuries or severe traumatic brain injuries have been associated with an increased risk of dementia. Take steps to protect your head, such as wearing a helmet when participating in sports or riding a bike.
It is important to note that not all cases of dementia can be prevented, and some risk factors such as genetics cannot be controlled. However, taking steps to reduce your risk of dementia can help promote brain health and improve overall well-being.