The Secret Behind What Actually Causes Dementia, Revealed

Dementia is a collective term that’s used to describe all types of cognitive decline, so it’s not a single disease — and there isn’t a single cause. Unfortunately, dementia can happen to anyone, although it’s much more likely to occur as you age. But since dementia is caused by a number of factors, knowing your risks can help you better your odds of avoiding it.

But first, the symptoms of dementia

An elderly woman being pushed in a wheelchair.

Here are the symptoms to watch out for. | iStock.com

You might think that forgetfulness is the only sign of the early stages of dementia, but there are actually several clues. Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty completing familiar and basic tasks, like cooking a meal.
  • Frequently misplacing things.
  • Disorientation, getting lost on familiar streets.
  • Sudden mood changes and personality changes.
  • Forgetting simple words in conversation or using the wrong words.
  • Loss of initiative–showing less of an interest in starting projects or going places.

Next: The causes of dementia. 

 So what causes dementia?

A retired couple walks along a gold course.

Dementia is caused by many different factors. |  iStock.com

It would be convenient if there was only one (avoidable and preventable) cause of dementia, but this is not the case. Dementia has quite a few causes, and some of them might surprise you.

Next: If you’ve had a stroke, you may be in trouble.

Cerebrovascular damage

An Illustration of the human brain.

Dementia can be caused by damage to the blood vessels in the brain. | Jezperklauzen/Getty Images

Damage to blood vessels in the brain is a common biological cause of dementia. This includes strokes and narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the brain.

Next: Sometimes it’s all in the genes.

Genetics

Mature couple having a glass of wine at campsite.

Your family history can tell you a lot about your chances of developing dementia.  | Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Getty Images

If you have a relative with dementia, you’ve probably wondered if that means you’ll get it, too. While having a risk gene does increase your odds, having family members with dementia definitely doesn’t mean you’ll get it yourself. Just be very diligent in noticing any early symptoms that appear.

Next: Time is not on your side.

Aging

Tensed mature woman sitting in bed.

It often comes along with old age. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

The sad fact is, the older you get, the higher your risk is for developing dementia. And since there is only one alternative to getting older (which is worse than dementia), all you can do is take care of your health as you age.

Next: Here’s another reason to quit smoking.

Smoking cigarettes

An ashtray full of cigarette butts. Two hands are seen holding cigarettes.

Another reason to quit smoking. | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A recent study officially linked smoking cigarettes to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If you’re a current smoker, this is one of many reasons to quit.

Next: Check your blood pressure.

High blood pressure

A doctor checks a patient's blood pressure.

Bad blood pressure can contribute to dementia. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

High blood pressure has been linked to dementia in women over 40. And it’s not a small risk, either — it could be as high as 73%. Blood pressure can be controlled naturally with a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding certain risk factors.

Next: There may be a link between this disease and dementia.

Diabetes

Man is measuring the level of glucose.

Diabetes can also be factored in as a cause. | Bernardav/Getty Images

Researchers have found that people with diabetes who already have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are more likely to get dementia. Diabetes seems to make it more likely that MCI will progress to dementia.

Next: Get plenty of folic acid in your diet.

Folate deficiency

Vegetables and nuts on a brown table.

Be sure to eat your B Vitamins. | iStock.com

Folate is one of the B vitamins, and it’s great for your brain. Make sure you’re getting plenty of it in your diet — folate deficiency has been associated with a tripling of dementia risk in the elderly.

Next: Have you ever had a concussion?

Traumatic Brain Injury

MRI brain scans on a screen.

Traumatic head injuries could cause dementia. | Movus/iStock/Getty Images

Trauma to the head can lead to cognitive and memory problems similar to dementia. This will depend upon the severity of the trauma and what part of the brain was affected.

Next: Stay connected with your friends.

Loneliness

Sad woman looking out window.

Staying connected to your loved ones is key in your golden years. | Giocalde/iStock/Getty Images

A study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry identified links between loneliness and the development of dementia.  Researchers found that it was the feelings of loneliness that increased the dementia risk, so make sure to stay connected to your friends and family.

Types of dementia

An elderly woman looks worried.

There are different types of dementia. | iStock.com

When you think of dementia, do you think of Alzheimer’s disease? While Alzheimer’s does account for 60-80% of all dementia cases, it’s not the only one to worry about. Some, like dementia with Lewy bodies, can be slowed and treated, but others, like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are fast and fatal.

Next: Your best bet is to take preventative measures.

There is no cure …

An elderly person reaches for a pill inside a container.

There is no official cure for dementia. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Unfortunately, at this time, there is no cure for dementia. That’s partially because it’s often difficult to diagnose, and drugs struggle to get into the brain as the brain’s blood supply is largely separate to the rest of the body. That being said, research is continuous, and there have been a few promising steps in the right direction.

Next: Watch for symptoms closely and treat them early.

… but in some cases, early stages of dementia can be reversed.

Athletic mature woman training outdoors.

A healthy lifestyle can prevent dementia. | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

The good news is, sometimes the earliest stages of dementia and cognitive decline can be reversed. According to a study published in the Aging Journal, reversing cognitive impairment is possible. This involves a lot of factors, such as optimizing your diet, getting plenty of sleep, reducing inflammation, and getting plenty of Vitamin B12. Still, nothing is guaranteed, so it’s best to try and prevent  cognitive decline in the first place.

 

Next: Here’s one piece of good news.

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet

A spread of Mediterranean foods.

Make sure to eat lots of salmon, avocado, and other healthy fats. | iStock.com

Here’s a bit of good news: One specific diet could help you prevent dementia, and it’s a good one. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet could keep your mind sharp and extend your life. To reap the benefits, eat mostly plant-based foods, cook with olive oil, enjoy fish, limit red meat, and drink red wine in moderation.

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