Living with dementia can be very difficult. As with any medical condition, patients and their loved ones want to know what caused the condition in the first place. Further, many people wonder if dementia is hereditary, and if so, if it is likely that they will pass it onto their children or inherit it from their parents.
However, since dementia is a collection of symptoms and not usually caused by a disease, virus or genetic mutation, it is nearly impossible to find a genetic link. Some studies suggest that only 1 out of 100 cases of seem to be hereditary, but with such small odds, it may just be a case of chance.
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There is one type of dementia, Huntington’s disease, that is caused by the inheritance of a faulty gene. This type of dementia is very, very rare and mainly affects those of European descent. People of African or Asian descent are even less likely to suffer from Huntington’s disease. This is the only type of dementia that is thought to be hereditary.
What Causes Dementia
Since dementia is not typically hereditary, you may be left wondering what causes dementia. In short, there is no one cause of dementia because there several different kinds of dementia. Even then, there is not solely one cause per type of dementia.
The four most common types of dementia are:
- Frontotemporal Dementia
- Lewy Bodies Dementia
- Vascular Dementia
Some other types of dementia include Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. There is also a condition called “mixed dementia,” which is when a patient shows symptoms from different types of dementia.
Common Causes of Dementia
The main cause of dementia is age. As the body grows older, the neurotransmitters naturally become weaker. This means that the brain is unable to send messages to the rest of the body like it used to. Dementia is diagnosed when a person’s neurotransmitters breakdown at an abnormally greater rate than the typical person.
In addition to age, there are many other causes of dementia. Damage to the brain cells is the underlying cause in most cases of dementia, but there are several ways that this could happen.
Here are the most common causes of dementia:
- Injury: Physical trauma or extended periods of unconsciousness can cause irreversible damage to brain cells.
- Prion Disease: This type of disease causes proteins in the brain to morph and mutate.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Although there has been a link established between dementia and HIV, exactly how HIV causes dementia is still being researched.
- Stroke: Blockage of blood flowing to the brain in one cause of vascular dementia.
- Further development of existing issues: Many conditions lead to the development of dementia as a patient progresses into the end stages; multiple sclerosis is a prime example.
While dementia itself is not reversible, the symptoms are sometimes caused by reversible or treatable factors. These can include vitamin deficiencies, improper pairing of drugs, depression and thyroid issues. If these factors have not yet damaged the brain cells, identifying and treating these issues should help to erase the symptoms of dementia.
Risk Factors of Dementia
Old age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. After the age of 65, the chances of the onset of dementia doubles every five years. There are many factors that put people at higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia.
Those who suffer from cardiovascular disease, insomnia, sleep apnea, diabetes, depression, brain trauma and midlife obesity are prone to dementia. Regular smokers and excessive drinkers also run a high risk of experiencing the symptoms.
If you are one of the very few people who suffer from Huntington’s disease, there is very little you can do to prevent the onset of dementia due to the hereditary factors. If you believe that you are at risk of dementia for any other reason, it is smart to take action in preventing or delaying the dementia by speaking to your doctor.
Here are some habits that you can incorporate into your lifestyle as a way of preventing dementia:
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Follow a diet that is rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Wear a helmet on bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, etc. to prevent brain damage
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
- Completely avoid smoking
- Do not drink excessively
- For diabetes patients: regulate your blood sugar and avoid high glycemic foods
While none of these practices are guaranteed to prevent dementia, they can certainly help to decrease your risks of being diagnosed with dementia. Since some of the risk factors of dementia can be linked to one another, most of the preventative measures actually are used to prevent several of the conditions.
There is no need to worry about dementia being passed down to you unless either of your parents had or have Huntington’s disease. Research has yet to support the idea that any of the most common types of dementia are hereditary, although research is still ongoing.
Since there are a variety of factors that increase your risks of being diagnosed with dementia, it is important to take action to prevent this condition if you believe you may be susceptible.
For more information see our early signs of dementia guide we made.