The Inconvenient Truth About Dementia
Dementia is defined as a persistent or chronic disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory loss, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. it is definitely a factor in aging.
“Dementia is a broad category of brain diseases that cause a long-term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember that is great enough to affect a person’s daily functioning. Other common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and a decrease in motivation.”
For those between the age of 65 and 74, 3% have dementia. If an individual is between the ages of 74 and 84 the percentage increases to 19%. Almost half of the people over the age of 85 have dementia.
When you couple this with the thought that we are living longer, it is a sobering fact.
The Causes of Dementia
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Medical science has determined that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by low-grade chronic inflammation of the brain. This results in chronic loss of brain tissue and the resulting shrinkage of the brain. Neither the cause of this disease nor the exact cause of chronic inflammation of the brain has been determined.
There is likely to be several underlying sources of the inflammation.
However, regardless of the inflammatory cause, the result is the same. The sufferer will have poor cognition and reasoning ability. There may be changes in personality as well as memory loss, speech difficulty, and loss of motor function. An unnerving fact is that there is some loss of mental function in 50 % of people over 85 years of age.
Chronic Vascular Disease
Another common cause of dementia is chronic vascular disease. This is often preceded by several years of chronic high blood pressure or diabetes. There are other causes of vascular disease but these appear to be the most prevalent.
Chronic heart failure, coronary artery disease, and narrowing of the brain vessels lead to decreased blood flow to the brain. Many times this is due to chronic wall thickening of the vessels, or chronic loss of elasticity of the heart due to age. Consequently, the patient will experience loss of brain tissue. Regardless of the underlying cause, the effects on the brain are the same. Multiple areas of the brain will degenerate due to decreased blood flow. Vascular narrowings or multiple small or large strokes will exacerbate the loss of blood flow. Then dementia will manifest itself.
Degeneration of Brain White Matter
Dementia is also accelerated by degeneration of the central brain white matter. The white matter of the brain serves the same function as wires in an electrical circuit. The white matter gets its name from myelin which is a fat-protein layering around the brain nerves for insulation. It serves a purpose much like insulating material around electrical wires. When it deteriorates, the brain will not function well and dementia is the outcome.
Loss of Brain Tissue
Medical science has determined that the basic cause of dementia is the loss of brain tissue. Alzheimer’s disease and vascular insufficiency are the most common causes of this loss of brain tissue. However, multiple other processes can produce brain tissue atrophy including drugs and long-term alcohol use.
Acute infectious processes including AIDS, meningitis, and cerebritis or an infection of the brain can cause loss of brain tissue. Non-infectious inflammatory diseases from such processes as Lupus Erythematosus can also produce brain tissue loss. These diseases are called vasculitis and are defined as inflammation of a blood vessel or blood vessels.
Rare conditions such as Jacobs-Creuntzfield disease can cause the same problems of the brain. Multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can manifest with dementia. Chronic recurrent brain injury from sports such as boxing, football, and soccer are also culprits.
A blocked airway can also cause brain tissue loss. A depletion in the level of oxygen in the blood (an anoxic event) contributes to dementia. The list of causes goes on and on. However, the greatest percentage of dementia is due to Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular insufficiency.
Does Physical Age Cause Brain Tissue Loss?
The answer is yes, but with one caveat. Brain volume loss is directly proportional to age but not in all people. Also, some people develop dementia with less loss of brain tissue than generally expected. A general rule is the greater loss of brain tissue, the more severe the dementia.
As humans, we seem genetically wired to begin the loss of brain tissue as well as all body structures after reaching the age of 25. There is a predictable loss of body mass, strength, and tissue over time. In most people, at 80 years of age, the decline accelerates. Therefore, there is a much larger group of individuals with dementia within the population of those over the age of 80. However, medical research has determined that brain loss can be slowed. With future medical innovations, this loss will likely be reversible.
What Can Be Done To Slow Brain Aging?
The most important fact to realize is that dementia begins numerous years before becoming symptomatic. Once a person has developed Alzheimer symptoms, the disease has progressed beyond repair or cure.
There is no treatment at this time. Medical science has come up with methods to manage dementia after its onset but not to reverse or cure it. The present treatment has poor results but can slow the progression of the disease.
The patient who is developing dementia knows that something is wrong but cannot determine the problem. From an anti-aging perspective, we must start treatment from an early age to treat this disease. Simple everyday activities, such as exercise, appropriate diet, sunlight exposure, blood pressure control, weight management, and social interaction can produce significant delay and possibly reduce the possibility of ever getting dementia.
Science cannot prevent dementia at this time. A concentrated analysis is certain to produce a better understanding of the causes of dementia. More research is needed to combat and eradicate dementia and to treat its symptoms accurately. The future will hold the key to the cure for dementia, not only for the patient but for his or her family and for all of society.
Read more articles about Brain Health and Anti-Aging at the Guide For Seniors.