You know how there seem to be smart phone apps for nearly everything you do? – you can track your snacking, how much walking you do, emotions, make grocery list reminders, get suggestions for sales in the area, and so on. It spurred the popular saying “there’s an app for that,” which seems to increasingly be true. I did a little digging, and the saying is actually a trademark of Apple from 2009.
I find myself thinking or saying “there’s a dementia for that,” more often than I wish.
There are hundreds of different types of dementia, and they have different areas of the brain that they effect, different symptoms that are expressed, different causes, and different types of treatment. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) will primarily have symptoms of memory loss that disrupts daily life and changes in cognitive functioning (planning, carrying out tasks, disorientation, etc.). People with Vascular dementia (the second most common form of dementia) will primarily have symptoms of confusion, disorientation, vision problems, and difficulties with speaking or understanding speech. And people who have Dementia with Lewy Bodies tend to have the cognitive problems that resemble Alzheimer’s, but are also likely to have sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and Parkinson’s-like movements.
You can read more about the most common types of dementia and their symptoms on the Alzheimer’s Association website. And you can read more about rare forms of dementia in this Alzheimer Europe report from 2005.
I find that I am saying “there’s a dementia for that” to all kinds of things that come up in normal conversation. It is important to keep in mind that the term dementia is an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms – it is not a disease within itself, and there are many causes for the dementia symptoms. Below, I have made a short list of conditions which cause a specific type of dementia. Some are reversible, some are not.
Injury-related dementia: Dementia puglisia was used to describe the dementia that occurs in boxers (puglisia), and later to describe dementia that occurs due to physical injury/trauma such as in professional sports, military/combat careers, vehicle crashes, and can also occur in abused individuals. Dementia pugilistica is actually a type of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a serious type of brain damage resulting from repeated concussions and is found in many professional athletes and military personnel who have been subjected to multiple impacts to the head. Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury for all ages. Those aged 75 and older have the highest rates of traumatic brain injury-related hospitalization and death due to falls.
Alcohol-related dementia: Wernicke’s encephalopathy. The lining of the stomach becomes damaged by alcohol use, and vitamin absorption is affected. The lack of thiamine (B1) in the body is what causes Wernicke’s encephalopathy. The condition is treated with high doses of thiamine and the majority of symptoms can be reversed. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to permanent brain damage and death. (State Government of Victoria)
Nutrition deficiency-related dementia:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency is often caused by alcohol abuse and results in Wernicke’s encephalopathy (State Government of Victoria, National Institute on Aging, Hersh)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency can cause pellagra and symptoms of dementia
- Vitamin B6 deficiency (Mayo Clinic, Hersh)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency/pernicious anemia (Wikipedia, Hersh)
- Folic acid deficiency
- Lyme Disease (Wikipedia, Hersh)
- Syphillis (Wikipedia, Hersh)
- Encephalitis (National Health Service)
- Meningitis (Hersh)
- Hypothroidism (Wikipedia)
- Hypoglycemia (National Institute on Aging, Hersh)
- Low or high levels of sodium (National Institute on Aging, Hersh)
- Hypercalcemia (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC., Hersh)
- Hormone imbalances can cause dementia (WebMD)
- Kidney disease (renal failure): (Alzheimer Europe)
- Liver disease (hepatic failure): (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC., Alzheimer Europe)
Normal pressure hydrocephalus: This occurs when cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain. Older adults with this condition will often experience difficulty walking and with bladder control before the dementia symptoms. Normal pressure hydrocephalus can be due to several causes, including enlarged ventricles in the brain, meningitis, encephalitis, or head injury (Alzheimer’s North Carolina, Inc., Mayo Clinic, National Institute on Aging).
Simple hydrocephalus is caused by a developmental abnormality within the cerebrospinal fluid pathway (WebMD).
Cerebral vasculitis is the inflammation and death of the tissue in blood vessel walls (National Institute on Aging).
- Depression, especially severe depression, can cause dementia. Symptoms of depression are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as dementia in older adults (The Regents of the University of California, National Institute on Aging, National Health Service).
- Bipolar disease can be misdiagnosed as Frontotemporal Dementia, or FTD (The Regents of the University of California)
- Schizophrenia can be misdiagnosed as FTD (The Regents of the University of California)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be misdiagnosed as FTD (The Regents of the University of California)
Paraneoplastic syndromes in people with cancer can cause symptoms of dementia as the body’s immune response to the cancer cells also targets proteins in the central nervous system (National Institute on Aging).
Drugs can induce dementia, either alone or from the interaction of several medications. Side effects of medications can cause dementia that develops quickly or slowly over time (Hersh). You can also read my post on drugs that cause memory problems here.
- The most common culprits are sleeping pills and tranquilizers (WebMD)
- Anticholinergics (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC., WebMD)
- Barbiturates (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Benzodiazepines (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Cough suppressants (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Digitalis (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (Remedy Healthcare Media, LLC.)
- Benadryl (Gray, et al., 2015 JAMA Internal Medicine)
- Illegal drugs, such as cocaine (WebMD)
Poisoning by heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, or other poisonous substances, such as pesticides and carbon monoxide, can cause dementia (National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s North Carolina, Inc., Mayo Clinic).
Hypoxia due to coma or cessation of breathing. Sudden hypoxia may occur if someone is comatose or has to be resuscitated (WebMD).
Vascular dementia is caused when the brain’s blood supply has been interrupted. Stroke and atherosclerosis are common causes for vascular dementia, which tends to occur in people who have high blood pressure, a history of stroke, Type 1 diabetes, and smokers (National Health Service).