A common misconception is that dementia is a disease; well, it is not. It is a group of multiple symptoms. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s are just a few of the illnesses that create the symptoms of dementia.
Dementia is basically split into two broad categories: cortical dementia and subcortical dementia. The difference lies in which parts of the brain are affected.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease is a form of cortical dementia. This type affects the cerebral cortex, which is the outer neural tissue of the brain.
On the other hand, subcortical dementias come from a dysfunction in the parts of the brain located beneath the cortex. This formulates diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. There are cases where both parts of the brain are affected. This is known as multi-infarct dementia.
The affected cognitive areas that dementia generally impacts are memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and decision making. Most doctors will want to see a history of the patient going back at least six months before diagnosing the symptom as dementia. Behavior during a period more immediate than that may be simply considered delirium.
The word dementia itself comes from the Latin, meaning “madness.” Today it is commonly used as an “umbrella term” for multiple symptoms such as cognitive impairment, faltering language skills, short attention span, poor decision making, behavioral issues, and the deterioration of motor skills.
Unfortunately, the most common dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is non-reversible. In fact, it’s terminal; we have zero survivors.
There are, however, a few other causes of dementia that can be turned around if (only) caught early enough, vascular dementia being one of them. Therefore, an early and correct diagnosis is so crucial as soon as the initial symptoms begin to present themselves.
A low level of vitamin B-1, B-6, and/or B-12 in the system could also be the culprit in these symptoms. A simple blood test can detect this and should be one of the first things a physician investigates.
Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, states that “Dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s is the cause of the symptom.” A good analogy to the term “dementia” is “flu.” If a doctor tells you that you have the flu, he or she is referring to multiple symptoms: an elevated temperature, body aches, fatigue, headache; but it does not identify what is causing the sickness. What virus has invaded your body? So, basically what I’m saying here is that If you are experiencing cognitive impairment, there is something inside your body causing it. To properly diagnose someone with dementia, we need to find out what. It may not be disease-oriented. It possibly could be caused by an infection or immune disorder, even a metabolic problem.
Early-Onset Dementia is when people are diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65. Other terms for this include ‘young-onset dementia’, and ‘working age dementia’. The symptoms of dementia may be similar regardless of a person’s age, but younger people may have different needs, and require some different support.
Whether your loved one is diagnosed in the 50s or 80s, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves on the best standards of care and how to create the best quality of life for them.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc
Dementia Spotlight Foundation