A common misconception is that dementia is a disease; well, it is not. It is an umbrella term of multiple symptoms. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s are just a few of the illnesses that may 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 time 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 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 is terminal. We have zero survivors.
There are, however, a few other causes of dementia which 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 present themselves.
A low level of vitamin B-1, B-6 and 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 actually causing the sickness. So, basically what I’m saying here is that dementia is not a disease; it is an umbrella term for multiple symptoms being caused by a disease, such as Alzheimer’s (or something else going on in the body,) possibly an infection or immune disorder, even a metabolic problem.
What is Early-Onset Dementia?
People diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 are often described as having “early onset dementia” by health and social care professionals. Other terms used 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.
Regarding short-term memory:
When my father was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a doctor explained to us the difference between long-term and short-term memory loss. This is how he put it: “When you’re traveling through the woods to a place you’ve visited many times, you’ll be walking on a trail that will be well broken-in. But, when you go to a place you have never visited, the brush and branches spring back, devouring the newly made path so you can’t find the same way back.”
Think of these paths and trails as the highway system of your brain. With childhood memories you’re cruising down a two-lane highway to a destination you’ve visited thousands of times.. But when you’re trying to think of someone you just met or what just happened two minutes ago, the road you’re stumbling upon hasn’t even been surveyed and cleared yet.
I have to tell you that when my dad would realize all of a sudden he was not where he thought he was, or you were not who he thought you were, the devastation that would spread across his face was heartbreaking. It was one of the saddest parts of watching him deteriorate.
The best thing I found to do was to gently change the subject. I would attempt to move his mind onto something else. Amazingly, his penetrating sadness usually would vaporize as quickly as it found him.