Dementia is a summary term for disease-related processes that interfere with normal brain functioning via decreasing a person’s capacity for cognitive processing (decreasing, for example, memory, and reasoning).
There are different types of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s Disease. Dementia types in order of prevalence include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
- Vascular dementia (vasD)
- mixed AD/ vasD
- Parkinson’s Disease dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia and other rare dementias
NOT everyone will develop dementia, but risk factors have been identified. Risk factors are those that increase a person’s risk to develop dementia. Having such a risk factor increases the probability that a person may develop dementia, but a risk factor does not mean that one will develop dementia!
Risk factors include
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- diabetes (type 2)/ midlife obesity
- physical inactivity
- lower levels of education
- social isolation
While these risk factors may exist, there are also protective factors- factors that most likely can protect us from developing dementia. Protective factors usually refer to preventive strategies that people can engage in to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Protective factors include
- regular physical activity
- remaining mental active/ stimulated
One of these protective factors is called cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve relates to the brain’s ability to continue to function despite attacks on it from disease-related brain changes. And factors that increase a person’s cognitive reserve include higher level of education, remaining mentally stimulated, active, and curious. You can read more on cognitive reserve here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3507991/ Thus, these factors would be considered protective factors- they protect us.
Practical information on how to implement your very own dementia prevention strategies, and what to keep in mind, can be read here: https://mindyourbrain.com.co/aging/brain-health-and-cognitive-health/
At present, not enough is known about modifiable risk or preventive factors regarding dementia prevention despite the concerns of an increasingly aging population. As a result, the Canadian government has released its Dementia Prevention strategy in June 2019, which you can access here: Prevention Strategy.
Notwithstanding, dementia is a progressive disease that causes irreversible damage to brain cells and function- it presently is incurable. Therefore it is important to get diagnosed early on to gain the most benefit from therapeutic interventions that are available.
Symptoms of dementia include difficulties in thinking (e.g., decreased memory, reasoning, orientation) and social functioning. These symptoms eventually show up in a person’s ability to complete everyday activities independently. For example, the person may ask for frequent repetitions and may get lost or confused with simpler tasks, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. However, it is important to realize that there is no simple one-to-one relationship between dementia-related brain changes and the development of dementia symptoms. This means that people’s brains can show the signs of dementia-related disease changes without experiencing dementia symptoms as shown in the famous nun studies by Snowden. You can read about the nun studies and its findings here.
Another important point relates to the fact that dementia-like symptoms can be caused by many other diseases and conditions that lead to so-called “pseudo-dementia”. In these cases, different underlying causes lead to changed brain function that affects a person’s behaviour. It is important to distinguish between these two types of dementia: true dementia and ‘pseudo dementia’, because treatment is different, and can lead to complete recovery in ‘pseudo dementia’, provided that the causal factors are properly identified and treated appropriately by a professional (e.g., medical doctor).