30th Mar 2023
Dementia is a syndrome that affects the brain, causing issues with several aspects of functioning such as memory and speech. There are several types of dementia, each with slightly different causes and potential risk factors.
Dementia is a condition related to several neurocognitive disorders, in which parts of the brain become damaged, causing several symptoms relating to cognitive ability, mental state, and physical functioning . Typically, dementia occurs in older adults, over the age of 65, but it can emerge at younger ages and many older adults to not experience dementia symptoms at all .
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects over 60% of people with a diagnosis of dementia . Other types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.
Each form of dementia can cause slightly different symptoms. Common symptoms of dementia include :
The causes of the different types of dementia can differ from person to person, but research suggests that there are several contributing risk factors to each.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which cause increasing damage to the brain as they kill cells and prevent communication between neurons .
Often, this build-up of proteins occurs in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, thus contributing to the emergence of memory deficits, which is commonly the first symptom of Alzheimer’s to be observed .
Other risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease include :
Lewy body dementia is caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain called Lewy bodies, which contributes to a reduced level of acetylcholine in certain parts of the brain. This causes the development of symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions that are common with Lewy body dementia but less so with other types .
Risk factors of Lewy body dementia are not specifically known. It often presents with similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s dementia, causing challenges in differentiating the exact causes or individual risk factors .
As such, further research is required to determine the exact risk factors of Lewy body, but it is believed that age and genetics may also be contributing risk factors, as is the case with other types of dementia, although this is currently unclear .
Vascular dementia is caused by a lack of blood to the brain, therefore reducing available oxygen in the brain and resulting in cell damage and death. This could occur due to a stroke or narrowed blood vessels in the brain .
Risk factors include :
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by damage to either or both the frontal and temporal lobes, causing behavior and mood changes or speech and language impairment .
Similar to Alzheimer’s, this damage is caused by a build-up of tau proteins, resulting in a loss of neurons and cell death. However, as this damage occurs in a different part of the brain, the symptoms of frontotemporal dementia differ significantly from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s .
Unlike the other types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia does not carry the same age-related risks, as this type of dementia typically emerges between the ages of 45-65 .
Studies indicate that excessive alcohol use can greatly increase the risk of dementia. This risk can be mitigated or managed by reducing alcohol consumption and adopting healthy lifestyle choices .
Melatonin is a natural chemical that helps us maintain our sleep-wake cycle. As we age, levels of melatonin tend to decrease, so many older adults use melatonin supplements to help with sleep .
There is no evidence to suggest that using melatonin supplements will increase the risk of dementia and short-term use has been found to cause no harm, although research into the effects of long-term use is limited so further studies are required .
There is research to suggest that the use of melatonin may actually improve cognitive functioning in those with Alzheimer’s disease, along with improving the quality of sleep .
Recent research has found that there is a link between the long-term use of Benadryl and an increased risk of dementia, potentially due to the effect that Benadryl has on acetylcholine levels, thus contributing to cognitive decline and memory loss .
Short-term use of Benadryl is considered to be safe .
Some studies indicate that the use of statins can contribute to a reduced risk of dementia . However, the results of these studies are not conclusive, so further research is needed.
As such, statins should not be taken for any purpose other than to treat heart conditions and should be taken only as prescribed .
Stroke is a common cause of brain damage that causes dementia, especially vascular dementia. Stroke can lead to cell death and therefore greatly increasing the risk for the onset of dementia symptoms .