How do you get dementia?

Dementia is an increasing issue in our ageing society. But the question many people ask later on in life is ‘how do you get dementia?’ ‘Are there any particular cause of dementia?’ And ‘what types of dementia are there?’

Every day, more light is being shed on mental health issues including dementia thanks in part to many individuals and organisations raising awareness and acceptance.

If you have a family history of dementia or are concerned about a loved one who has been diagnosed and want to understand why, the following information may prove useful.

What are the different types of dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of symptoms, such as memory loss or mental agility, which occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases and conditions. Although there are up to one hundred different types of dementia, four are by far the most common. And of these four, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia represent up to 90% of all cases.

The four most common types of dementia

  1. Alzheimer’s disease, makes up between 50-70% of all cases;
  2. Vascular dementia, accounting for about 20% of all cases;
  3. Dementia with Lewy bodies, comprising around 5-10% of all cases; and
  4. Fronto-temporal dementia including Pick’s disease.

What are the causes of dementia?

Understanding the cause of dementia could help you prepare for the future, as well helping you to support a loved one who’s experiencing dementia themselves. Many causes of dementia are disease related, and many of these simply cannot be explained or avoided, although some lifestyle factors may influence your likelihood of contracting the disease.

Finding an answer to the question “how do you get dementia?” isn’t simple, but below is an outline of some current theories about the different causes, triggers and risk factors for dementia.

  1. Causes and risks of Alzheimer’s disease
    Caused by a build-up of protein in the brain, the result is a progressive loss of nerve cells and internal structural damage.

    Risk Factors

    • Ageing. Alzheimer’s usually affects people over the age of 65, but as with everything there are exceptions.
    • Gender. Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men.
    • Family history. Those with a parent or sibling affected by Alzheimer’s are slightly more likely to develop the disease than those with no family history.
  2. Causes and risks of Vascular dementia
    This can occur when oxygen supply to the brain is reduced, resulting in the loss of brain function. This often happens following a stroke – perhaps one large stroke or a series of small strokes – causing damage to blood vessels deep in the brain.

    Risk Factors

    • Gender. Men are slightly more likely to suffer from vascular dementia than women (as they’re more prone to heart disease and strokes).
    • Ethnicity. People from South Asia (such as from India and Pakistan) and people from African or African-Caribbean regions are more likely to be affected.
    • Cardiovascular health. People with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes are more at risk.
  3. Causes and risks of Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
    Tiny, abnormal structures of protein (called Lewy bodies) develop inside brain cells, disrupting the brain’s chemistry leading to the death of those cells. It’s not currently understood why these bodies occur, and other than age, there are very few other risk factors known to increase the chance of developing DLB.

    Risk Factors
    Age. It is more common in people over the age of 65.

  4. Causes and risks of Fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick’s disease)
    This rare form of dementia is most usually diagnosed in younger people between the ages of 45-65. It affects the frontal lobes of the brain, just behind the forehead, causing them to lose cognitive function. It’s currently unknown what causes the build-up of these abnormal protein bodies.

    Risk Factors
    Family history. Although it is a most uncommon form of dementia, Fronto-temporal dementia is known to run in families; about one third of people suffering from this type of dementia have a family history of the disease.

Can dementia be prevented?

Whilst many causes of dementia are still being studied, there are certain lifestyle factors you can put into place to help reduce your risk of developing dementia.

A simple rule is to remember that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain! And adopting these behaviours will lead to a healthier lifestyle regardless.

Recommended habits to incorporate into your lifestyle include:

  • Being physically active
  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Being socially active

Contact Group Homes Australia to learn more about dementia care options in your area.