Signs & Symptoms of Dementia

Everyone experiences dementia differently. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of dementia is a key component of starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Dementia

Learn about dementia

Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect thinking and social abilities to the extent that it interferes with a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Dementia is characterized by a loss in mental functions, such as thinking, memory, and reasoning and can also include changes in personality, mood, and behavior. Additionally, dementia may also result in the impairment of one’s ability to think clearly, one’s ability to use language appropriately, and one’s ability to use sound judgment. Currently, there are as many as 50 known causes of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. While most cases of dementia cannot be cured, there are some causes that can be reversed, which is why if you think it is possible that you have dementia you should seek treatment immediately. A physician will be able to determine what is causing your difficulties and, in cases where dementia cannot be reversed, they can provide you with resources where you can get help.

Statistics

Dementia statistics

Dementia is believed to be one of the world’s fastest growing diseases. It has been estimated that there are approximately 24 million people worldwide who are living with some form of dementia. In America, the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, affects around 13% of individuals over the age of 65.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for dementia

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells that interferes with the ability of those cells to communicate with others. When these brain cells are unable to communicate normally, a person’s thinking, behaviors, and feelings can be affected. While there is not one exact cause for why someone will develop dementia, there are some factors that may eventually lead to this disease. The following are some examples of various causes and risk factors that have been known to contribute to the onset of dementia:

Genetic: Men and women who have a family history of dementia are at a greater risk for developing the condition themselves. Additionally, having specific genetic mutations can put an individual at a significantly higher risk.

Physical: Dementia is typically caused by a degeneration of cells in the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling a person’s thoughts, memories, actions, and various aspects of his or her personality. The death of the brain cells in this area will result in the development of cognitive impairment, leading to onset of dementia.

Environmental: It is widely believed that environmental factors can play a role in the development of dementia. For example, multiple studies have shown that when people are exposed to certain chemicals, such as lead, particulate air pollution, and aluminum, they are at risk for experiencing a decline in cognition. Additionally, when people are exposed to these types of toxic chemicals, their risk for developing cognitive decline at an earlier age increases.

Risk Factors:

  • Increasing in age
  • Having Down syndrome
  • Suffering from a brain injury
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Having infections that affect the brain, such as syphilis or HIV/AIDS
  • History of Parkinson’s disease
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • History of Huntington’s disease
  • History of multiple sclerosis
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Having high cholesterol

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of dementia

Each person is unique and therefore will experience dementia in his or her own way. Additionally, the different types of dementia will affect people differently, especially in the early stages of the disease. Furthermore, how others respond to an individual with dementia and the support system available to them will also affect how well someone is able to live with dementia. The following are some examples of common signs and symptoms that an individual with dementia may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased restlessness
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Social withdrawal
  • Violent behavior
  • Difficulty performing complex tasks
  • Difficulty planning and organizing
  • Misplacing commonly used items
  • Loss of the ability to perform familiar tasks
  • Pacing

Physical symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Impaired motor functioning
  • Poor balance
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sudden weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties making decisions, solving problems, or carrying out a sequence of events
  • Hard time following conversations or finding the right word for something
  • Inability to reason
  • Loss of object recognition
  • Comprehension disturbances
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Impaired ability to think in abstract ways
  • Impaired orientation (i.e. not oriented to person, place, time, and/or situation)
  • Impaired perception
  • Poor judgment
  • Decreased ability to pay attention
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Easily frustrated or irritable
  • Anxious
  • Becoming easily upset
  • Being overly suspicious
  • Unusually sad
  • Psychosis

Effects

Effects of dementia

Dementia can affect the functioning of many systems of the body and therefore makes it difficult to carry out daily tasks. The effects of dementia can negatively impact both the individual suffering from the symptoms, as well as the people in that person’s life. The following are some examples of the complications that can occur in an individual who has dementia:

  • Increased levels of aggression
  • Poor nutrition
  • Reduced hygiene
  • Difficulty taking medications
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Overall deterioration of emotional health
  • Becoming suspicious of other people
  • Repeating questions or participating in repetitive activities
  • Difficulties communicating
  • Forgetting one’s friends and family
  • Long-term memory loss
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Getting lost
  • Personal safety problems, including falling or problems with cooking and driving

Co-Occurring Disorders

Dementia and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for dementia to occur alongside other types of illnesses. Some examples of the various disorders that have been known to co-exist with dementia include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Aggression
  • Substance use disorders
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease