Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a general term used to describe a gradual decline in memory and other mental abilities. The chronic condition affects more than 3 million people each year, and unfortunately, there is no cure. However, there are certain medications and therapies that can help manage symptoms. Recognizing the risk factors of dementia early on is important as some causes of it are reversible. If you suspect that your elderly loved one may have dementia, look for these risk factors.
Age is the greatest known risk factor for dementia. Most people who develop it are 65 years of age or older. It is also more common than you think. Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Someone in the U.S. develops the condition every 66 seconds. Unfortunately, it remains a mystery as to why the risk of dementia dramatically increases as we grow older.
While the cause of dementia is not completely clear, the disease is associated with brain cell degeneration. The natural aging process causes changes in the small blood vessels that are responsible for supplying the brain with glucose and oxygen. Just like your heart, the brain is a muscle that needs to exercise to remain fit and healthy. As we age, we tend to work out our brains less and less. This can lead to a gradual loss of cognitive health. In some individuals, intervention does not delay or prevent dementia.
Research has found that some ethnic communities are at a higher risk of developing dementia than others. One report concluded that older African-Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as elderly whites. The report also showed that Hispanics are about one and one-half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias than elderly whites. These statistics are alarming as these communities now make up a large percent of the U.S. population.
Some ethnic communities are also known to develop certain types of dementia. For example, South Asians from countries such as Pakistan and India are known to develop specific types of dementias like vascular dementia. This higher risk is believed to be connected to the higher risk of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease that occurs in South Asians. Individuals of an African or African-Caribbean origin are also believed to develop dementia more often and are prone to other diseases like diabetes and stroke.
While no one knows exactly what causes dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, researchers do know that genetics are involved. Genes act as the building blocks that control every component of the body. You get your genes from your parents which come grouped in strands of DNA known as chromosomes. Most healthy people are born with 46 chromosomes separated into 23 pairs. Typically, one chromosome in each pair comes from each parent.
Researchers have found a link between Alzheimer’s disease and certain genes, specifically chromosomes 1, 14, 19, and 21. The APOE gene, a gene on chromosome 19, has been connected with late-onset Alzheimer’s. This is the most common form of dementia affecting people over age 65. However, these genes are not clear cut as not all people with the APOE gene will develop Alzheimer’s. In short, if dementia runs in the family there is a chance that your elderly loved one may also develop the disease.
Dementia has been linked to a number of health conditions and diseases. Certain conditions that damage the heart, arteries, or affect blood circulation can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia. These cardiovascular risk factors include diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high total blood cholesterol levels, or obesity that occurs in mid-life or later life. Most cardiovascular conditions are associated with vascular dementia.
Certain psychological factors can also increase a person’s risk of dementia. For example, people who do not engage in stimulating activities or tend to isolate themselves socially may be at a higher risk. Many people with Down syndrome also develop dementias by middle age. These individuals will often experience the gradual signs of Alzheimer’s disease before developing the condition. Dementia is also associated with atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the artery walls due to plaque buildup.
Evidence shows that our lifestyle choices have a direct impact on our risk of developing dementia. Dementias have been found to be lower in groups of people who engage in healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular physical exercises, maintaining a healthy weight, and not drinking or smoking. Certain lifestyle habits like an unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption is also related to other conditions, such as raised cholesterol and narrowed arteries, which can also contribute to dementia symptoms.
Accidents may also be linked to dementia, specifically head injuries. A severe blow to the head at any point in life can lead to an increased risk of dementia in old age. This is why many athletes develop dementia. In fact, dementia pugilistica, otherwise known as punch drunk syndrome, is a form of acquired cognitive impairment that develops in up to one-fifth of professional boxers. It can also occur in other sports where there may be head trauma, such as football.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or you suspect that he or she may be showing signs of mental decline, you may want to consider in-home care. With in-home care services, individuals with varying degrees of dementia can obtain the daily assistance they need to live independently but with the helping hand of a trained health professional. Some individuals with dementia may need assistance with personal care services, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting, while others may need help with chores, such as housekeeping, meal preparation, or shopping. In-home care services are designed to reduce the burden on the family while providing adults with dementia with the very best care possible.