Dementia occurs when the cognitive condition of a person declines and is considered a syndrome that typically has at least two of the following alterations:  ability to comprehend and verbalize language, form short-term memories and understand geographic information.  Impairments may also affect daily function.

There are several different causes of dementia:

  1.      Alzheimer’s (the most common)
  2.      Lewy body dementia (second most common)
  3.      Vascular dementia
  4.      Mixed dementia: has a vascular component combined with Alzheimers
  5.      Frontotemporal dementia (FTD, Pick’s disease)

All of these have degeneration of the neurons which is literally the death of brain cells.  I should also mention that there are two other categories:

  1. Correctable forms of dementia: Depression, B12 deficiency, head trauma, alcoholism and too many medications can all mimic dementia and will resolve when the underlying issue is addressed.
  2. Drug induced dementia: Several medications are showing an increased risk including anti-cholinergics, some anti-depressants and some anti-seizure medications.   A study published in JAMA reported a 50% increase risk of dementia in people who took strong anticholinergics (exposure to more than 1,095 daily doses of anticholinergics over 10 years) which is the equivalent of a daily dose over a three year period.  Anticholinergic medications are typically recommended for parkinson’s but can also be for overactive bladder & incontinence, anti-psychotics, IBS, and some asthma medications to name a few.

READ on to learn more about the types of dementia as well as 5 tips to reduce your risk of getting dementia….  PS.  You really want to know this one common drink to avoid to reduce your risk!

Alzheimer’s typically starts losing neurons in the hippocampus which is responsible for our memory and learning.  Many things contribute to this process including inflammation, oxidation, accumulation of toxic proteins (amyloid plaque) & high blood sugars.

Lewy body dementia is a specific form of dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease.  The Lewy body is an accumulation of a specific protein called alpha-synclein.  In addition to the cognitive issues of dementia signs and symptoms of this form may include hallucinations which may be one of the first symptoms.  These are typically visual (seeing shapes, animals or people that aren’t there) but may also be sound, smell or touch.  Movement is affected just like   Parkinson’s:  slow movement, rigid muscles, tremors and a shuffling walk.

Vascular dementia is caused by damage to the blood vessels.  Often you will hear about “silent strokes” in these cases meaning there is evidence of damage on MRI brain scan but without the classic acute stroke symptoms.  Inflammation, high blood sugar and high cholesterol all contribute to vessel damage.

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Frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain first.  People affected with this can have a range of symptoms that involve any of the following changes:   trouble speaking, changes in personality, difficulty making decisions and trouble behaving according to social norms.  This form is typically seen in younger adults and is rarer.

Genetics do play a role with the main forms of dementia but the good news is just because you have a genetic predisposition does not mean you will get dementia.  Researchers discovered that people with a high genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle had a 32% lower risk of getting dementia that those with a genetic risk and unhealthy lifestyle!  A genetic risk with an unhealthy lifestyle was found to be THREE times more likely to develop dementia.

Here are 5 tips to reduce your risk of dementia regardless of your genetic status…

  1. Change your diet
  2. Avoid high sugar foods, limiting any artificially sweetened beverage to once a week. A study published in the American Heart Association journal reported a three times increase risk of stroke or dementia with drinking at least ONE artificially sweetened beverage daily!  Yes, ONE a day.
  3. Add good fats like coconut oil. David Perlmutter the Brain Doc recommends 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day for those at high risk.
  4. Exercise!! Just get moving.  (sedentary lifestyle increases your risk)
  5. Stop smoking (use of tobacco products increases your risk)
  6. Limit alcohol use (increased consumption of alcohol increases your risk)
  7. Check the following tests and know your numbers:
    1. Hemoglobin A1C – 3 month average of blood sugar marker – keep this number below 5.4 and if you have a higher genetic risk aim for less than 5.2. Normal ranges are less than 5.6 but when specifically targeting dementia the lower the better.
    2. hsCRP – inflammatory marker – goal is less than 1
    3. Blood pressure: goal is 120/80
    4. Cholesterol: goal of LDL is less than 100 unless you have the Lipoprotein (a) elevated then the goal is less than 70.  Triglycerides should be less than 75 or a non-fasting level less than 160.  HDL should be greater than 50 for women and 40 for men.


To your health,