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Early Onset Dementia

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Early onset dementia tends to affect those of working age. Its causes are generally related to stress or depression associated with a person’s career. This can mean that the condition is often neglected, resulting in patients being unaware of the danger they are in.
  • Symptoms of early onset dementia may not be solely presented through forgetfulness, as stress, depression and withdrawal from social and familial circles may also occur.
  • Therapy in the form of artistic expression, meditation or the playing of instruments can all go some way to reducing the effects of early onset dementia.

 

Dementia refers to the degeneration in various forms of brain function, for which the symptoms come and go, resulting in dysfunction of thought, memory, reasoning and communication capabilities, as well as personality changes or irregularities. In some cases, patients may experience mood swings, stress, depression or refuse to comply and withdraw from society altogether. Dementia usually affects those over the age of 65. However, it can affect people between the ages of 30-65, too.

Early onset dementia is now found in up to 6.9% of all dementia cases, with most of that number being made up of working-age patients who may have overlooked the condition as merely being a part of the stress or depression that results from their careers. Nevertheless, in overlooking the condition and mistaking it for a benign illness, the patients are actually ignoring something with the potential to become extremely dangerous.

Causes of early onset dementia

The condition may be a result of:

  • Family history of early onset dementia.
  • Cerebral thrombosis, which most commonly affects those with diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood lipid levels. This can decrease circulation in the cerebral blood vessels, resulting in destruction of brain cells.
  • Hormonal, especially low thyroid hormone levels.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiencies, especially left untreated for an extended period of time.
  • Regular smoking or alcohol consumption. Smoking is a major factor behind cerebral thrombosis, while alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, meaning that regularly drinking alcohol or alcohol overconsumption can cause brain damage.
  • Infections affecting the brain, such as HIV, syphilis and other viruses.
  • Brain injuries or brain tumors.

Warning signs for early onset dementia

  • Forgetting simple things, such as the day, month and year, or forgetting recently visited places and important events, requiring a smartphone or notebook to help remember such details.
  • Personality changes may occur, such as not speaking clearly, speaking in fits and starts, or repeating themselves, thereby causing ineffective communication.
  • Inhibited decision making skills, for example, making bad choices or taking an extremely long time to decide on what to do.
  • Perception of distance, colors and differences, which become problematic in terms of driving.
  • Stress, depression and withdrawal from society, in terms of either family or work colleagues.
  • Reduced efficiency in the workplace, including a lack of concentration, anxiety, as well as repetition of actions and thoughts.

Those with dementia may not only experience problems with memory. Doctors will often look out for many other of the aforementioned symptoms when making a diagnosis. Generally, patients will be unaware that they are suffering from dementia, and those around them will be consulted to identify which symptoms are present.

For those who are unsure of whether or not they have dementia, a consultation with a doctor should be arranged in order to carry out assessments and diagnosis.

The following methods are used in the assessment process:

  • Tests to identify dementia and an emotional evaluation.
  • MRI scan of the brain for any blood vessel stenosis or brain tissue damage as a result of restricted blood flow or brain tumor.
  • Spinal fluid examination in cases where an infection is suspected, such as HIV or syphilis.
  • Analysis of vitamin B12 levels.
  • Assessment of thyroid hormone level.

Treatment for early onset dementia will begin with the causes of brain cell degeneration or damage. Metabolic antibiotic will be prescribed in cases where an infection has been identified from a spinal fluid analysis.

Medication can slow disease progression in early dementia. Alternately, behavioral and emotional therapy may be utilized to encourage the patient to speak about their emotions and partake in activities. Moreover, group therapy sessions can promote reintegration into society. Art therapy, medication and playing musical instruments may also help to relieve emotional symptoms.

Vitamin B12 deficiency or low thyroid hormone level should be corrected with supplements. Any brain tumor may be treated by surgery. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood lipid levels pose a high risk for restricted brain blood flow.

Reducing the risk of cerebral thrombosis can be carried out by regulating a person’s weight and blood pressure, eating a wide variety of vegetables and avoiding trans fats and fast food. Diabetics should also regulate their condition, while smoking and alcohol consumption should be reduced as this will help to alleviate symptoms of the aforementioned health disorders.

There are still no definite treatment for dementia, so if you suspect that yourself or someone close to you is suffering from the condition, please make an appointment to consult with a doctor, especially in cases where the condition may be the result of an infection, such as HIV or syphilis. In case of an untreated infection, mental deterioration and body system complications could be fatal.


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Thaninjitra Poonpedpun, M.D. Summary: Neurology Neurology