Memory loss is often seen as a natural symptom of old age. Dementia, however, is not a natural part of aging. It appears more in the elderly because it is slow and progressive, degenerative and is often caused by Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which is the decline of brain function due to a series of strokes.
Dementia is caused by the destruction of brain cells which inhibit the brain’s proper functioning. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “there are an estimated 47.5 million dementia sufferers worldwide with one new case of dementia being diagnosed every 4 seconds.”
Dementia can also be caused as a result of other severe illnesses. As the immune system slows with age, many elderly adults are at a greater risk of infections and complications. Something as minor as a cold for a young person can quickly escalate into a life-threatening condition for an elderly adult. Their compromised immune systems can make an otherwise mild illness a pathway for dementia to begin. Some more minor health issues and lifestyle preferences can also be causes of dementia. There is, therefore, a wide variety of health and medical conditions that can result in dementia for an elderly person. Some of these causes can be treated and prevented, while others can’t. These include:
Preventable or Treatable:
- Head injury
- Brain tumors
- Meningitis, HIV / AIDS, or syphilis infections simple and normal pressure
- Hydrocephalus (when the fluid in which your brain sits in collects inside the brains, causing the brain to get crushed and compressed.)
- Hormone disorders
- Metabolic disorders
- Hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood)
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Drug abuse
- Chronic alcoholism
Non-Preventable or Treatable:
- Family history
- Down Syndrome
- Prior cognitive impairment
Dementia is a devastating, incurable disease. While some causes of dementia can’t be avoided and treated, there are others that you or your loved one can do something about to decrease the risk of getting dementia. It is important to work with your loved one’s physician through regular check-ups and testing. The doctor’s advice and suggestions should be listened to. The desires and needs of your loved one also need to be taken into consideration when determining care. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some preventative measures elderly patients can take to potentially avoid getting dementia:
- Heavy alcohol use. While moderate alcohol consumption is okay, heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of dementia.
- Cardiovascular risk factors. These include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, build up of fats in your artery walls (atherosclerosis) and obesity.
- Although not yet well-understood, late-life depression might indicate the development of dementia.
- Seniors with diabetes have an increased risk of dementia, especially if it is poorly controlled.
- Smoking might increase the risk of developing dementia and blood vessel (vascular) diseases.
- Sleep apnea. People who snore and have episodes where they frequently stop breathing while asleep may have reversible memory loss.
While most of these dementia preventative measures are lifestyle choices, you as a caregiver should not force your loved one to do or change something they don’t want to, unless its highly recommended by their doctor.
Keeping your loved one’s brain active is the key to prevent or slow the progression of dementia. Regular visits and conversations, games, social and tactile interactions and medication management can all help keep the brain active. At the Senior Care Shop, we know how difficult it can be to care for a loved one with memory loss. Our passion is to help you improve and enhance the quality of life for your loved one, we offer a variety of items, tools and resources to make caring for your loved one less stressful and more effective.