What are the complications and risk factors of dementia?

What are the complications and risk factors of dementia?

Dementia complications

Dementia impacts a variety of systems in the body, which in turn affect the sufferer's ability to function normally. Dementia can, therefore, lead to:

  • Inadequate nutrition – A number of people with dementia will eventually reduce and stop their nutrient intake. They may even struggle to chew and swallow their food.
  • Pneumonia – In some cases where nerve function is compromised, dementia sufferers may find it difficult to swallow. This can increase the risk of aspirating  (breathing in) food into the lungs as well as choking. When food enters the lungs, blocking their function, this can result in pneumonia.
  • Inability to perform self-care tasks – As a progressive condition in some cases, dementia, can interfere with dressing, bathing, brushing teeth or hair as well as using the bathroom and toilet independently, it can also impact the sufferer's ability to take daily medications.   
  • Personal safety challenges – There are a number of daily situations that may present issues of safety for those with dementia, these include cooking, driving or even walking alone. This is due to issues with directions and memory. 
  • Mobility challenges - As dementia progresses, mobility may become impaired. The operation of vehicles can become challenging. Even for those using a mobility scooter for people with disabilities, a decline in these faculties may, in time, make using these devices unsafe, diminishing the sufferer's independence significantly.
  • Death – Dementia in the later stages may result in the patient going into a coma or dying, this is often due to secondary diseases and infection.  

Dementia risk factors

There are a number of factors that may eventually lead to the devleopment of dementia. Some factors, like ageing, cannot be stopped. However, there are several factors that are able to be addressed to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The following are risk factors that are unable to be avoided or changed:

  • Ageing – As a person ages, their risk of developing dementia increases. Those over 65 are more susceptible to the condition although it can also occur in younger people.
  • Having a family history of dementia – Those with a family history of dementia may have a higher risk of developing it later in life. However, there are a number of people who have a family history and do not develop symptoms, and many people who do not have a family history of the condition that do develop it. There are tests available to determine whether you have a certain genetic mutation pertaining to dementia.
  • Having down syndrome – People who suffer from down syndrome, when middle-aged, may develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia).
  • Suffering from mild-cognitive impairment – This condition involves having memory issues but not losing any daily functioning abilities. However, these memory issues may place certain people at a higher risk of developing dementia.

The following are risk factors that can be changed or controlled:

  • Using drugs and alcohol – Drinking large amounts of alcohol may put one at a higher risk of developing dementia, as well as the heavy intake of recreational drugs.
  • Suffering from cardiovascular issues – Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol or atherosclerosis (A build-up of fats in the walls of the arteries) can increase the risk of developing dementia. These conditions can, however, be prevented through lifestyle and dietary adjustments (i.e. exercising, following a healthy diet etc.) and by taking medication.
  • Having diabetes – If someone is diabetic, and they do not control the condition or treat it, their risk of developing dementia is heightened.
  • Smoking – If someone is a smoker, their risk of developing vascular diseases (blood vessel diseases), as well as dementia, is increased.
  • Having sleep apnoea – Those who snore may suffer from sleep apnoea (i.e. episodes of interrupted breathing), this may have effects on memory loss that is reversible.
  • Suffering from depression – It is thought that the sudden development of depression experienced later in life may indicate that dementia is developing. However, more research is needed to be done on this theory.
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