Dementia is an umbrella term used for diseases that affect the brain and cause a decline in brain function. However, dementia isn’t actually a disease—it’s just a group of symptoms that come with several different ailments. So, if all of this is new and unfamiliar to you, here’s a little guide that will explain dementia, and its causes, types and symptoms.

What causes dementia?What causes dementia?

Dementia starts when there’s significant damage to brain cells that interferes with their ability to communicate with one another. When this connection between cells is damaged, the affected person loses the ability to conduct normal behavior, and their thoughts and emotions become erratic. In some cases, the damage is caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in and around the brain cells, while in other cases, dementia can be caused by reduced blood flow in the brain or by an injury.

What types of dementia exist?

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease and it accounts for 60%-80% of all cases. Alzheimer’s disease boosts the production of certain proteins that surrounds and damages the structure of brain cells, which deteriorate and die with time. Another type of dementia is called vascular dementia that is caused by decreased blood flow to the brain, which damages cells. It is often triggered suddenly by a serious stroke or it can occur over time following several smaller strokes. There’s also dementia with Lewy bodies that causes the growth of abnormal structures in brain cells that damages and kills them. Dementia can also be caused by injury that directly leads to brain cell death. This type of cognitive decline disease is closely related to repetitive injuries like those seen in boxers or rugby players.

What are the symptoms?

Most types of dementia cause memory loss, communication issues, inability to focus, impairment in judgment and reasoning and issues with visual perception. In order to diagnose dementia, at least two of these major symptoms have to be present. In time, the person will find it harder and harder to do even the most basic of things and they might require more care and monitoring. The best thing for such patients is to move to a dementia care center with trained staff and around-the-clock care. Some cases might greatly benefit from professional in-home care that can provide personalized help and keep the patient happy and safe in a familiar environment. This way, the patient can easily engage in a mental exercise program that can improve alertness, communication, attention and perception.

How to catch it early?How to catch it early?

There are early signs of dementia that you should keep an eye on. The most obvious one is the change in short-term memory. For instance, the sufferer would repeat themselves, ask recently answered questions and go over subjects that were already covered. Another common symptom is the poor sense of direction. The person might forget paths or stop recognizing familiar sights along the way. Mood swings, apathy, confusion and even anger outbursts can be quite common early signs of cognitive decline.

Is there a cure?

There’s no cure or treatment for dementia and most of its types. However, there are medications that can temporarily slow down or even stop the progress of the disease and improve the symptoms. There are also some non-drug therapies that can help with monitoring dementia. Also, there are steps one can take to lower the risk of dementia such as reducing alcohol and tobacco use, monitoring cholesterol and diabetes and keeping their atherosclerosis at bay.

If you have anyone in your family or friend circle who might exhibit signs of dementia, warn them of their behavior and you might potentially save them a world of trouble.