Previous Episodes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Many factors — diseases, injuries, infections, dietary or hormonal deficiencies — can cause the collection of symptoms known as dementia.
The fundamental concept to understand is that all of these conditions have something in common: they change your brain on a cellular level. The cells of your brain (your neurons) are altered so that they no longer function normally. This is what results in the classic symptoms of forgetfulness and “brain fog” that most people are familiar with.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
How does dementia affect the brain?
Your brain is the master organ that oversees every step of your daily life. Different regions and networks of your brain are involved in specialized tasks. For example, laying down new memories relies on a part of the brain called the hippocampus,1 while the frontal lobe of your brain is critical for decision-making and attention.2 So depending on where the disruption in your brain occurs, this is why you get different symptoms.
In the two most common types of dementia — Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia — typically the hippocampus is affected first. This explains the early memory problems in Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, neurodegeneration begins to occur in other parts of the brain, which leads to more serious problems with other tasks of daily living.
Vascular dementia is caused by strokes in the brain.3 Depending on how severely a blood vessel is damaged and the location of the damage, symptoms can vary widely. Risk factors for vascular dementia include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and obesity, so it is critical to maintain your overall health to preserve your cognitive health.4[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Prevention of dementia
Currently, there is nothing you can do to outright prevent dementia. There are no vaccines or vitamins or drugs to stop its onset. However, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of dementia or catch it early.
There is a significant genetic factor involved in Alzheimer’s disease, so if your family has a history of dementia, you should remain especially vigilant and monitor your own cognitive health. Dementia is especially prevalent after the age of 65, when it is diagnosed in 1 in 6 people.5 However, because symptoms only show up after several years of neuron or brain cell degeneration, it helps to stay attentive and monitor your own cognitive health as well as the health of your aging loved ones.
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Overall, the best studied way to prevent or slow the onset of dementia is to stay active — both physically and mentally — every day.
- Deng, W., Aimone, J. B., & Gage, F. H. (2010, May). New neurons and new memories: how does adult hippocampal neurogenesis affect learning and memory? Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886712/
- Bechara, A., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. R. (2000, March 01). Emotion, Decision Making and the Orbitofrontal Cortex | Cerebral Cortex | Oxford Academic. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/10/3/295/449599/Emotion-Decision-Making-and-the-Orbitofrontal
- Vascular Dementia |Stroke.org from http://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/survivors/stroke-recovery/post-stroke-conditions/cognition/vascular-dementia
- PhD, M. K. (2005, October 01). Obesity and Vascular Risk Factors at Midlife and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer Disease. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/789626?referrer=Baker
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia Causes, Risk Factors | Research Center. Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_disease_causes.asp
- Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia | Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s & Dementia Prevention and Risk | Research Center | Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp