Types of Dementia

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Dementia Risk Factors

by Nicole Jewell, Contributing Writer

As our loved ones age, it can be difficult to watch some of the inevitable declines that they experience. Many of these are normal signs of aging, but others can be symptoms of an underlying disease. Loss of memory, deteriorating cognitive function, and personality changes or moodiness can indicate dementia.

Rather than a specific disease, dementia is a set of symptoms that can be caused by or accompany other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s Diseases. It can also be brought on by strokes, both minor and major and HIV or AIDS. Whatever its cause, dementia has several risk factors that all people should be aware of as they age. Some cannot be helped while others can be avoided.

  • Age: While it is possible for dementia to occur in younger people, the likelihood of experiencing the symptoms increases greatly with age.
  • Genetics: Some people are genetically predisposed to develop dementia. Although researchers have identified genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and family history may also increase risk, it is still impossible to predict the presence of it in someone based on these things alone. Some people with a family history of Alzheimer’s never develop it while some with no history do.
  • Alcohol and Smoking: Recent research has shown that smoking cigarettes raises the risk of developing dementia significantly. This may be because smoking leads to atherosclerosis and other vascular diseases, which may cause strokes. Studies have also shown that drinking large amounts of alcohol increase the risk of dementia, but drinking in moderate amounts actually lowers the risk.
  • Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is the build-up of plaque on the inside of arteries, causing them to harden. It can impede the flow of blood to the brain and cause strokes, which lead to dementia symptoms. Because plaque in arteries is largely cholesterol, a high level of cholesterol is also a risk factor. Diabetes can also lead to atherosclerosis and therefore to dementia.
  • Down Syndrome: Many people with Down syndrome have been found to develop plaques in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease by middle age. Not all will, but many Down Syndrome individuals will develop dementia.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment: Not all people with mild cognitive impairment will have dementia symptoms, but many do. Some studies have found that 40 per cent of those with mild cognitive impairment over the age of 65 develop dementia.

Many of the risk factors for dementia like age, heredity and other genetic factors not something a person can control. For those with such factors, there are preventative measures that can be taken.  Diet, supplements, and mental activities may slow the progression of the disease. Other risk factors can be controlled. People with no family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease who avoid smoking, drink alcohol in moderation and maintain a healthy lifestyle stand a good chance of preventing the onset of dementia.