Living With Dementia

By Bonnie Steele. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

As health care around the world improves and people begin to live longer, healthier lives, the number of loved ones suffering from dementia is on the rise.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there were an estimated 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide in 2013. That number is expected to increase dramatically to 135 million people by 2050.

The U.S. spent approximately $203 billion in 2010 to care for people with dementia, so it’s no surprise that the rise of dementia is creating global economic concerns. “The sheer dollar amount is greater than the cost of any other disease faced by our society and is expected to rapidly increase in the next decade,” says Michael S. Rafii, MD, PhD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of California, San Diego.

Early Symptoms Of Dementia

Dementia is a collective name for progressive and degenerative brain syndromes that affect memory, thinking, behavior, language and emotions. However, it adds up to more than bouts of forgetfulness or repeatedly losing the car keys; dementia interferes with a person’s daily life.

At least half of dementia cases are brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, says Rafii. “The leading risk factor for dementia is age, but the disease has many causes.” It’s important to know what symptoms to look out for:

  • Repeating the same story or question over and over;
  • Getting lost in familiar places;
  • Delusions or aggression;
  • Problems with language or recognizing objects;
  • Memory or concentration problems;
  • Difficulty following directions;
  • Getting disoriented about time, people or places; and
  • Neglecting personal safety, hygiene and nutrition.

Types  of Dementia

Dementia can be divided into two broad categories: cortical dementias, which affect the outer layer of the brain and are characterized by memory loss and the inability to recall words. Subcortical dementias, which affect parts of the brain beneath the cortex, can cause slowing of thought or reduced ability to think clearly or initiate activities.

The most common causes of dementia are:

  • Degenerative neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and some types of multiple sclerosis);

  • Vascular disorders, blood flow problems that cause strokes or arteriosclerosis in the brain: and,

  • Mixed dementias (a combination of vascular and Alzheimer’s, for instance) and a variety of other causes.


Next Steps

Depending on the cause of dementia, some cases may be treatable. For example, dehydration, depression and B12 deficiency are all causes of dementia that can be rectified.Unfortunately, most forms of dementia are not preventable and will worsen over time. Researchers are working to develop drugs to combat this growing disorder and slow the degenerative process

Consider joining a clinical trial. Research shows that Alzheimer’s patients have beta-amyloid deposits in their brains, even before symptoms like memory loss begin. These sticky, protein-rich deposits are associated with brain atrophy and cognitive decline. Clinical trials aimed at preventing the growth of these deposits are underway, and many new ones are expected.

For Family Caregivers

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices as a family, like exercising and eating better, in order to combat the onslaught of dementia.
  • Keep your brain active with puzzles and reading, perform regular exercise that keeps blood flowing to the brain and avoid smoking .
  • Experts recommend people with dementia stay independent for as long as possible and try to live well with dementia, keeping active and occupied, maintaining a social life and looking out for general health.

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