Dementia is a collective term used to describe a range of brain disorders that affect a person’s memory, thinking, speech and language.
By Nabbumba Diana
Often times, older people’s brains and minds are challenged. However, many people are not well conversant with the diseases that are dementias yet there are over 47.5 million people suffering from dementia worldwide.
This number is expected to increase to 75.6 million by 2030. This article throws light on these different diseases. If the care givers and relatives know what their loved one is going through, they are in better position to assist and care for them.
Dementia is a collective term used to describe a range of brain disorders that affect a person’s memory, thinking, speech and language. People suffering from dementia have a decline in their mental ability that interferes with their activities of daily living.
Most of the dementias are associated with general symptoms including; loss of memory, changes in personality or moods or behaviour, trouble speaking and understanding speech, memory problems disrupting one’s daily life, feeling agitated and being confused, problems thinking clearly and making decisions or paying attention. However in explaining the different kinds of dementias, I will relate them to their causes and the unique symptoms of each of them.
Vascular dementia is caused by brain cell death caused by cerebrovascular diseases like stroke where blood flow does not reach the brain depriving brain cells of oxygen. It can be identified when the person has problems walking and having frequent falls, problems identifying sights and sounds that were familiar.
Alzheimer’s dementia is caused by progressive brain cell death and usually begins with memory loss. A person with Alzheimer’s has trouble planning and doing familiar tasks, is confused about where he/she, what day or year it is, loses things yet unable to track them.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) is caused by microscopic protein deposits on one’s brain. The person gets visual hallucinations, experiences periods of blacking out or gazing, dreaming where the person acts out physically and unusual sleepiness during the day.
Parkinson’s disease dementia is caused by a disorder of the nervous system. This eventually develops in about 50% to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease. It usually developing 10 years after a person first gets Parkinson’s disease. The unique symptoms are like those of DLB.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is caused by cell damage to the brain parts that control planning, judgement, speech and movement. It is associated with movement problems like shakiness, balance problems and muscle spasm and they lack shyness in personal and social situations.
Huntington’s disease is a brain disorder caused by genetic defects passed on through family members.
Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease is a rare condition where normal proteins in the brain start folding into abnormal shapes. The symptoms happen suddenly and worsen quickly including sleep problems, trouble walking, twitching or jerky muscles and depression.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is caused by build-up of fluid in the brain.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a disorder caused by severe shortage of thiamine (Vitamin B1) in the body. This mostly happens to long term heavy drinkers.
Mixed dementia is a combination of two or three types of dementia. The most common one being Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Post-traumatic dementia caused by injuries to the brain which is more prone to sports players and people involved in serious accidents.
This article has thrown light on the dementias that our loved ones may suffer from. Let us not isolate or yell at them, but rather understand what they are going through, treating them with compassion and love. There is also a need to seek for professional care for these loved ones.
The writer is a gerontologist. And director of Wazee Caregiving Uganda