Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Recently I attended a fascinating lecture and wanted to share some of it with my readers, so I took notes. The professor that spoke is from the University of Minnesota and holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience. His name is Dr. William H. Frey II. He studies prevention and treatment of brain disorders and has developed a method to improve memory in both Alzheimer’s patients and normal adults. It is called intranasal insulin. This finding is non-invasive and may help in other brain diseases as well. Although it’s very early, Dr. Frey’s discovery shows a lot of promise in treating Alzheimer’s by the delivery of insulin to the brain. (Dementia could be called diabetes of the brain.) Even though this type of Dementia is non-reversible it’s a start and makes the disease more manageable.
There are many types of dementia, but the three main ones are: Alzheimer’s (2/3 of dementia patients have this type.), Vascular and Lewy Body.
Dementia is not a normal step in the aging process, but people are more apt to develop Alzheimer’s as they age, with symptoms often appearing after the age of 60. It is believed that this can start to have an effect on the memory center long before a person shows any symptoms. It can take 8 to 10 years for the disease to progress to its worst stage. Even though there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the progress of the disease can be slowed by certain treatment options.
This is a type of dementia that, like Alzheimer’s disease, causes loss of memory and cognitive abilities and most commonly affects patients over the age of 60. But unlike Alzheimer’s where the symptoms come on gradually, the symptoms of vascular dementia may come on more quickly, with memory loss being one of the last symptoms to appear.
Vascular dementia is different from Alzheimer’s in that it is caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain, commonly caused by strokes. Atherosclerosis– the shrinking of the blood vessels, allowing for fatty deposits to collect– can also be a cause, as well as high blood pressure. Regardless of the cause of blood vessel damage, the result is the same — decreased blood flow to the brain.
Approximately 20% of all dementia cases are vascular, making it the second most common type. Risk factors include a history of heart attacks, strokes – especially multiple strokes, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
DEMENTIA WITH LEWY BODIES
This is the third most common form of dementia and is caused by build-ups of a certain type of protein in the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies and they effect a
person’s perception, behavior, and thinking. Lewy bodies are often found in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s patients, making this form of dementia harder to diagnose.
Unlike Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia, some of the symptoms of Dementia with Lewy bodies resemble those of Parkinson’s disease, such as muscle stiffness, slow movements or a shuffle when walking, falling, and tremors. Unlike any other form of dementia, this form also can present with hallucinations or delusions (which may fade out in time), severe sleep issues, acting out dreams, and extreme drowsiness followed by sudden spurts of energy.
This has been just a brief overview of the three most common types of dementia. As you can see, many symptoms can overlap, and it can be difficult to properly diagnose a patient suffering from dementia. If you suspect that a loved one is suffering from any of these types of dementia, it’s best to take him or her to a specialist for further diagnosis, and to always stay as informed as possible as a caregiver.
Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to help reduce your own risk. These include keeping active, eating healthfully and exercising your mind. Dr. Frey’s suggestions for prevention are:
- Use helmets on bikes or any sport.
- Exercise—very important.
- Keep mentally and socially active.
- Take Vitamin D–ask your doctor. (B-12 may be a factor as well)
- Have blood tests as your doctor advises-keep thyroid normal.
- Eating right. Plant foods play an important role on the brain.
The new MIND diet is good-some claims are made that it cuts down the risk of
Alzheimer’s by 50%! Some good foods are:
Green leafy vegetables, nuts, especially walnuts, berries, especially blueberries, whole
beans and fish (at least once per week, hopefully 2-3 times a week). Good
examples are salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and black cod.
Have less butter, cheese and whole milk (buying low or non-saturated fat products is
okay). Have meat less frequently. Another healthy choice is green tea.
The MIND diet is like the Mediterranean Diet. click here to read my past blog on the Mediterranean Diet
Another popular diet is The Nordic Diet, which is also much like the Mediterranean Diet. All these diets emphasize whole grains such as barley, rye and oats, berries, vegetables, fatty fish and legumes, and are low in sweets and red meat.