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About Alzheimer's & Dementia

Cause & cure

Cause and cure

What causes Alzheimer ’s disease and related dementias?

The majority of dementias are non-reversible and cannot be corrected. Scientists have not been able to determine exactly what triggers the development of most dementias, such as the plaques and tangles in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease, or the degeneration of frontal and temporal lobes with  frontotemporal dementia.
 
Heredity and family history are implicated in a small percentage (less than 5%) of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia (10 to 15%). A complex interplay of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors likely impacts the development of these diseases. In the not-so-distant future, researchers hope to have more information about the causes of dementia and how to prevent them.
 
Only a few causes of dementia-like symptoms are reversible:
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Thyroid disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Delirium

Is there a cure?                              

While there is currently no known cure for most types of dementias, medications are available to control some of the symptoms. These medications are mostly effective in the earlier stages of the disease, hence the importance of early diagnosis. A person who is diagnosed early will also have the time to plan for the future and to get his or her finances and care plan organized. There are a variety of resources available in the community, and an early diagnosis gives people the opportunity to explore these resources so they can live well with dementia and enjoy quality of life.

Specific types of dementia – cause and cure

 Alzheimer’s Disease 

Cause: What triggers the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain that lead to nerve cell death is not very clear, though several theories have been proposed. Researchers suspect it is a combination of several factors, including genetics, environmental factors, lifestyle and overall health. Research is ongoing in this field.
 
Treatment: Currently no known cure exists, but medications are available to control the symptoms. These medications do not stop or slow the progression of the disease; they simply help to restore the level of neurotransmitters (Acetylcholine) in the brain that enable the nerve cells to function more efficiently.
 

Vascular Dementia  

Cause:  Vascular Dementia is often the result of interrupted blood flow to the brain, either from blocked arteries or a series of strokes. This causes the death of brain cells and prevents the brain from functioning properly. Risk factors include elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar, tobacco usage, alcohol intake and lack of exercise.
 
Treatment: The changes in the brain caused by vascular dementia cannot be reversed. It is important to control and monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, tobacco, alcohol and get adequate exercise in order to prevent additional strokes or interruptions in blood flow to the brain.
 

Frontotemporal Dementia 

Cause: Likely a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors are the cause of FTD. A variety of changes on several different genes have been linked to specific subtypes of frontotemporal dementia, however,  more than half of the people who develop the condition have no family history of dementia. About 10 to 15 percent of cases show a strong family history of the disease.
 
Treatment: There is no cure for frontotemporal dementia and no effective way to slow its progression. Treatment relies on managing the symptoms. Antidepressants form the main line of treatment and antipsychotics are also occasionally used.