What Causes Early-Onset Dementia?

By Lisa Collier Cool
Aug 24, 2011

Sports fans were shocked and saddened to learn that basketball coach Pat Summit was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at age 59. Summit is renowned for having the most wins in college basketball—men’s or women’s—history, with 1,071 victories, along with two Olympic medals. After months of what she described as “erratic behavior,” including memory lapses, she was evaluated at the Mayo Clinic, where she was diagnosed with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. As she battles her toughest opponent, Summit plans to coach as long as possible. “It’s not going to stop me from living my life,” she told the News-Sentinel.

What is dementia—and why do some people, like Pat Summit—develop it at an unusually young age? What are the best ways to protect brain health? To find out more, I talked to Gary Kennedy, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Discover what the brain looks like in 3D.

What is early-onset dementia? Dementia isn’t a specific disease, but a group of symptoms resulting from damage to brain cells or connections between them. To be diagnosed with dementia, people must have impairments in at least two types of brain function. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans. About 200,000 of them have the early-onset form, which starts before age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. One in eight people over 65 have Alzheimer’s, increasing to nearly half of those age 85 and older.

What are the symptoms? The first sign of dementia is typically memory loss that disrupts daily life. Pat Summit told the Washington Post that she sometimes drew blanks on the names of basketball plays and the schedule for team meetings and practices. Other warning signs include confusion, trouble finding the right word or speaking, inability to recognize or use familiar objects (such as forgetting what to do with car keys), changes in personality, and impaired judgment and planning. For the Alzheimer’s Association’s list of 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, click here.

What causes dementia? Dementia can have many causes. Some are treatable or even partially reversible, such as a reaction to medication, toxin or an infection, head injuries, brain tumors, and hormonal disorders, including thyroid disease. Others have irreversible causes: Vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia, results when blood vessels in the brain get clogged with fatty plaque, leading to multiple strokes. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is usually an inherited condition, says Dr. Kennedy, and genes also play a role in 10 to 20 percent of Alzheimer’s cases in people 65 or older. However, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet known.

Explore the causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s here.

How is it treated? Some types of dementia can be treated by correcting potentially reversible factors that are sparking the symptoms: For example, if a medication reaction was making the person confused and forgetful, the doctor would switch the person to different treatment or adjust the dosage. While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, medications can noticeably or mildly improve symptoms in 60 percent of patients, while the other 40 percent get no benefit, says Dr. Kennedy. Two types of medication are FDA-approved: cholinesterase inhibitors and partial glutamate antagonists. Neither of them slows the progression of the invariably fatal disease, but in the best-case scenario, the person’s symptoms may regress, so they regain the level of function they had six months or a year earlier.

What are the best ways to prevent dementia? While there is no surefire way to prevent dementia, these tactics may help reduce your risk for both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, says Dr. Kennedy:

Exercise 30 minutes a day. Physical activities, from brisk walking to jogging, swimming, biking or aerobics, improve blood vessel health, which could help keep your brain well nourished with the nutrients it needs.
Reduce your cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol levels through weight loss, exercise, a healthier diet, and if necessary, medication, could reduce your risk for clogged vessels in the brain that lead to vascular dementia. Research also suggests that people with normal cholesterol levels at midlife are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.
Take classes. People with a higher level of education appear to have a lower rate of mental decline as they age. It’s thought that education may help the brain develop “cognitive reserves” that help the brain function normally longer even if it develops the abnormalities that lead to dementia.
Control risk factors. What’s good for your heart also benefits the brain, so other strategies that may help ward off dementia include avoiding smoking, keeping your blood pressure within normal limits, and maintaining a normal weight.


About thelifestylechanger

Glenda De Luca has spent over 25 years in the Beauty Industry, and has transitioned from the temporary beauty fix to permanent health and well-being, helping others transform their outer beauty based on nutrition and movement. She has also spent two years doing extensive research on the effects of pH levels in the body, and its profound impact on your health and well being. THE LIFESTYLE CHANGER Orange County, CA, USA 949.215.5701 Office 408.398.8043 Cell E-mail: thelifestylechanger@live.com Glenda has a Bachelor of Science degree in Para Psychic Sciences as well as a Level 2 Reiki Certification and is currently studying for her Masters in Holistic Nutrition. She lives a healthy lifestyle where she incorporates what she loves to eat based on a pH balanced diet, food combining, and customized supplementation based on her own personal DNA. She also incorporates movement into her Lifestyle to achieve the perfect weight and health. She is passionate about helping others achieve their Health and Wellness "Desired Results" in a manner that is fun, easy and sustainable.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s