If you were to travel 40 years into the past, you’d rarely see people talk about dementia. It was often regarded as a fact of life — instances of incapacity and memory loss were usually considered as a normal part of aging for which ‘nothing’ could be done. Today, things are different and that’s just not good enough.
As the stigma associated with mental illnesses is slowly challenged, increased awareness and interest from health services have brought dementia more and more into the spotlight, which is an important driver for finding new ways of treating and dealing with dementia.
The fatalistic view that surrounds dementia
The way society thinks about a disease is pretty important. When you think there is no cure for it, what’s the point in doing something about it? That’s an unfortunate way of looking at things, which can have significant repercussions in the long run.
Although there is no technical cure for dementia, that doesn’t mean there is no way to prevent or manage this disease. Better diet, enhanced cardiovascular health and better educational qualifications are all good options to reduce your risk of dementia. Having an overall healthy lifestyle is generally the best way to go about it.
Other scientific findings suggest that the prevalence of dementia can be indicative of public health in general. Though we don’t know the impact of all the involved factors, studying the impact of physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes on dementia would well give us a point towards a certain direction. Research has shown that diabetes can increase the risk of developing both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, and the two are often interrelated.
Although dementia awareness is moving into a generally positive direction, we should also be careful and consider the devastating consequences of this disease and the dire need of assisted care till the end of life. People are living longer than ever, and as a result, the rates of dementia are also increasing. No matter what the figures may suggest about declining figures of dementia prevalence, it is certainly true that dementia is on the rise as there will be a large number of older people suffering from it in the near future.
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What Causes Dementia – The Science
The exact mechanisms of dementia still hold some secrets, but researchers have a pretty good idea of how it works. Toxic levels of urea inside the brain are mainly responsible for damaging the parts of the brain which leads to dementia — a neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive impairment.
Urea is a by-product of protein metabolism that is produced within the liver in order to filter ammonia from the human body. It is excreted from the body in the form of urine after it is filtered by kidneys.
However, the causes of dementia are much more varied, and include things such as vascular impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and most commonly, Alzheimer’s. But that’s hardly all.
According to a study recently published by scientists from Australia, UK, US, and New Zealand, Huntington’s disease is one of the 7 major forms of dementia that is associated with aging. This disease has got a direct link to the human brain’s urea levels and also the metabolic processes. In fact, there was another study in 2016 that linked urea with the development of Alzheimer’s.
However, scientists also added that there is way more research needed to have a clear idea on the way the urea levels elevate. The present study was done on the brains of human beings that were generously donated by families for medical reasons, as well as on the brains of sheep that were modified genetically. The study included scientists from the University of Auckland, Manchester, New Zealand, and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.
Dementia is a killer
There’s currently no cure for vascular dementia. There is also no way to reverse any damage that occurred before the treatment commenced — but there is a treatment. Sometimes, the treatment can be effective at slowing down the damage and tackling the underlying cause of dementia.
Nevertheless, dementia is a killer.
Both directly and indirectly, dementia can claim lives. Since it is essentially a degeneration in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thoughts, memories, actions, and personality, it can cause numerous cascading issues down the road.
Migraines are also connected
Recent research has also found that migraines are an important risk factor for dementia. Multiple reports from different sources have said that migraine attacks are one of the main issues for Americans, Brits, and Australians but the long term impact on this health condition is still unknown. There are several results that show that focusing attention to migraines in dementia and Alzheimer’s is warranted to get a full clear idea about what migraine is and how it sets the stage for dementia if it is not treated in the long run.
A survey involving 680 seniors who didn’t have any past experience of cognitive issues asked them about their history of migraines. More than half of the respondents of the survey were women and their average age was 76. After they were tracked for 5 years, researchers found that 55 among them developed dementia. If other factors like age and education were taken into account, those who had Alzheimer’s and dementia were 5 times more likely to have experienced migraine attacks.
On the other hand, people with a history of migraines were thrice more likely to develop a kind of dementia and more than 4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, which is one of the biggest causes of dementia. Moreover, the reason that was figured out for linking dementia with migraine attacks were poor lifestyle decisions, not spending an active life and not following a healthy diet. These are already known reasons for aggravating dementia risk.
Scientists need more research to conclude whether or not the disruption in various lifestyle factors like diet, exercising, and mental stimulation also plays a pivotal role in raising the risk of dementia. Not taking proper care of cardiovascular health is yet another reason that can heighten the chances of dementia in the long run.
Effective treatments for dementia – Is it possible to find a cure?
Researchers, from all over the globe, are all working together to develop the most effective treatments that could treat dementia, if not to find out a proper cure.
Currently, there is no potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But the medicines that are available now can not only improve the quality of life but also stop the progress of dementia. In the following part of this post, we’ll discuss the few treatments that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
#1: Immunotherapy and Alzheimer’s vaccine
Researchers have been trying hard for more than a decade to develop an effective vaccine that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease. As long as immunotherapy is concerned, the strategy behind this is to utilize the immune system of the body to destroy beta-amyloid plaques. An approach to developing a vaccine is by utilizing immunoglobulin which consists of antibodies. This has been shown to be successful among people who had mild Alzheimer’s disease, in the earlier stages of the condition. Though this trial can be deemed to be too small, it suggests that immunoglobulin therapy may have safety benefits over other techniques of vaccination.
No, there is still no medicine that could cure dementia but there are definitely some that might help a patient with treating some symptoms for some time. Doctors might recommend other medicines to treat issues brought in by dementia, such as insomnia, depression or extreme irritation without any reason. A physician might recommend:
Memantine controls a chemical in the brain that is required for memory and learning. They often combine it with donepezil for treating moderate to severe dementia.
Anxiolytics like Ativan or Serax can ease off restlessness and anxiety
Antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can reduce irritability and bad mood issues
Antipsychotic medicines like Abilify, Haldol, Risperdal, Zyprexa can exert control on behaviors and feelings like agitation, aggression, hallucinations, and delusions.
#3: Therapeutic treatments
The therapeutic approaches can jolt your ailing family member’s memory and improve their thinking abilities. The therapies usually make sure that anything that they try will keep them from feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.
Reminisce therapy: This includes speaking with your family members and friends about your school days, hometown, favorite hobbies, and pleasant memories from work life. This therapy can both be done one-on-one or in a group.
Cognitive stimulation therapy: CST is a rather structured program that helps people who are suffering from the mild-to-moderate stage of dementia. The therapist engages you in activities, like speaking on current events, singing songs, cooking by looking at a recipe, playing word games or crossword puzzles.
Reality orientation training: This therapy deals with basic information like the person’s name, the time and date of the day. There are few patients that find this therapy to be too very patronizing. In case you see this method to not work on your loved one, don’t force it on him.
Reverse memory loss – Few changes to bring about in your daily life
You can’t remember where you kept your car keys? Did you just forget what you had to buy from the grocery store? You can’t remember the name of your physical trainer whom you spoke to three days back at the gym? If yes, you’re not alone. While everyone forgets things at times yet memory loss shouldn’t be taken too lightly especially when it is linked with dementia.
Don’t forget to include physical activity in your routine
Physical activity boosts blood flow to your entire body and brain and this keeps your memory sharp. The Department of Health and Human Services advise you to spend at least 150 minutes in a week in some form of activity like brisk walking, aerobic activity, jogging or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. If you’re too busy and you don’t have time for a full session of workout, you should take out 10 minutes for walking every day.
Socialize and stay in touch with people
Just as we all know that social interaction is something that wards of stress and depression, it can also work wonders in curing memory loss. Watch out for opportunities to socialize with your friends, loved ones and others. Stay away from living alone as they say, ‘an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.’
Try to stay mentally active
Physical activity helps your body stay in shape, but there are other mentally stimulating tasks that can also keep your brain in proper shape and help you reverse memory loss. You can play card games like bridge or crossword puzzles. While driving to a destination, take alternate routes so that you can tax your brain in finding new ways. Volunteer at a school organization and community.
Stay organized and systematic
When your home is cluttered, you’ll most likely forget things more than what you would have if your home was organized. You have to bring about a slight change in your lifestyle by getting systematic with things so that you keep yourself from forgetting. If you have appointments, note them down, write down a to-do list every morning or use an electronic planner that can remind you things. Tick off the items that you’ve already completed and try to keep your to-do lists current.
Opt for a healthy diet
This is not the first time we’re talking about the benefits of a healthy diet, and it’s no coincidence. While it is definitely good for your physical health, it is equally good for your mental health. Try and choose low-fat sources of protein like beans, fish and skinless poultry. Don’t drink too much alcohol as this can lead to memory loss.
Dementia is on the rise in many countries all over the globe — taking steps to reduce its risk is crucial. The sooner you start, the more effective it is.
- Tibi Puiu, What's the difference between Alzheimer's and Dementia?, 2017
- Dementia in Huntington's Disease – HOPES Huntington's Disease Information, 2010
- George Citroner, Migraine and Dementia: Are They Linked?, 2019
- Migraines linked to higher risk of dementia
- Condé Nast, A vaccine for Alzheimer's is on the verge of becoming a reality, 2019