What Causes Dementia? Types, Symptoms and Risk Factors
Many people assume that dementia and Alzheimer’s are two words that mean the same thing, but they’re not.
Dementia is a general term used to describe the loss of memory, problem-solving skills, language and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a condition that causes symptoms of dementia, but there are many other causes of dementia, too.
Keep reading for a closer look at what conditions, diseases and infections cause dementia for seniors.
Causes Of Dementia
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells that lead to a decline in cognitive function.
This damage interferes with brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate like they used to, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected. From memory, judgment and movement, when the region responsible for these cognitive abilities is damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally.
Depending on which region of the brain experiences damage, our cognitive functions are affected in different ways.
Types Of Dementia
Dementia is classified into various types based on what region of the brain is affected. Each type of dementia has its own unique symptoms, treatments and causes.
The types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- Mixed dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Due to high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells, it is especially difficult for brain cells to stay healthy and communicate with each other.
The brain cells in the hippocampus region of the brain are often the first to be damaged. That’s the center of learning and memory in the brain, and it’s why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The second most common cause of dementia is vascular dementia which occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the brain. When the blood flow to the brain is impaired, oxygen is cut off and blood vessels are damaged.
Vascular dementia causes problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes.
A person can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in their brain, but strokes aren’t the only cause. This type of dementia can also result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients.
This form of dementia is caused by abnormal protein forming inside brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are involved in decision-making and behavior. Many symptoms result from this damage, including unusual behaviors, emotional problems, trouble communicating, difficulty with work, or difficulty with walking.
Unlike other types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia affects younger people. Roughly 60% of people with frontotemporal dementia are 45 to 64 years old. It’s also the most rare form of dementia.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia is a form of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of a protein, alpha-synuclein, in the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies, and they affect the chemicals in the brain. More than 1 million individuals in the United States are affected by Lewy body dementia.
This type of dementia can cause a range of symptoms that are often confused with other psychiatric disorders. Symptoms include spontaneous changes in attention and alertness, recurrent visual hallucinations, REM sleep behavior disorder, and slow movement, tremors or rigidity.
The presence of more than one type of dementia in a single individual is called mixed dementia.
For example, a person with mixed dementia may have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. This can occur when an individual has multiple risk factors for multiple types of dementia or when the underlying causes of their dementia are not clearly identified.
It is also possible for a person with one type of dementia to develop another type later on.
Other Medical Conditions
Dementia can also be caused by other medical conditions, diseases and infections that affect the brain. Some types include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and chronic alcoholism.
Did you know? Urinary tract infections can cause temporary dementia known as UTI delirium. Click here to learn more.
Who Has An Increased Risk Of Dementia?
Age is the top risk factor for dementia. In fact, the risk of developing any types of dementia increases drastically with age, doubling every 10 years after age 60. Family history is another key risk factor associated with dementia. The risk doubles for people with a parent diagnosed with dementia before the age of 80.
Research shows that many other factors increase the risk of dementia, including high blood pressure, inactive lifestyle, diabetes, depression, alcohol in excess and social isolation.