Each year 9.9 million people get affected by dementia, which translates into one new case every three seconds. That’s right; dementia is more common than you thought. We often assume that Dementia is associated with old age because it is quite common in the elderly. However, it is an ailment that can affect the young as well. The chances are slim, but that does not mean that it doesn’t exist.
According to statistics, 5 percent of the five million plus patients have dementia at an early age. Hence, dementia in children hasn’t received a lot of attention as it should have.
Before we discuss dementia in children, let us discuss what dementia is and why is it a disease for the elderly. The most prominent symptom of Dementia is memory loss, something that usually happens in people of old age. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Dementia comes with a host of other problems; it affects their cognitive abilities leading to impaired focus, reasoning, language, and communication.
There are various forms of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer’s. It happens because a protein called amyloids forms a plaque in the brain, which causes tangles. Subsequently, there is also a decrease in the neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending signals between brain cells.
Vascular dementia, on the other hand, is caused by lack of blood flow to the brain. The symptoms depend on the part of the brain that is affected. Mixed dementia can also occur in many, whereby more than one type of dementia strikes the patient simultaneously.
Research shows that kids as young as three years old can develop dementia. Often a brain injury is considered as the root cause for the development of dementia in minors. A rare cause of dementia in children are the neuronal ceroidlipofuscinoses (NCL). It is a group of disorders characterized by the accumulation of storage material in neurons and other cells. This is accompanied by visual loss, motor decline and epilepsy.
Diagnosis of NCL is difficult because a number of genes can cause this ailment. However, certain dementia test can help identify the condition. NCL has been classified according to age groups.
This affects the patients at the time of birth. Symptoms include the postnatal onset of epileptic seizures. This often leads to death.
This starts to develop during the first 10 to 18 months. It is characterized by regression of psychomotor development.
The age of 2-3 years is classified as late infantile onset. At this age, several genes can be responsible for the ailment. Some of the common symptoms include muscular hypotonia, developmental regression, and therapy-resistant seizures. Children suffering from this type of dementia have a life expectancy of only 8-12 years.
Juvenile onset happens because of mutations in the genes such as CLN3, PPT1, and CLN9. The age bracket for juvenile-onset is 4-10 years, and symptoms include cognitive loss, vision loss, and seizures.
Some other causes of dementia in kids include heavy metal poisoning, viral infections hypothyroidism and lafora body disease. Lafora body disease is a genetic neurodegenerative disease which starts with epileptic seizures that aggravate with time and ultimately lead to dementia.
Symptoms of dementia in kids resemble the symptoms of dementia in the elderly. They can be hard to recognize because they might represent some other brain issues. However, some of the common symptoms include forgetfulness, behavioral changes, and problems in language, an extraordinary level of anxiety, lack of emotional control and loss of intellectual skills.
Other genetic diseases such as Mucopolysaccharidosis and Leukodystrophies can also cause dementia. Mucopolysaccharidosis is characterized by the impaired breakdown of sugar molecules, which causes accumulation of these molecules in cells and blood. Subsequently, it causes multiple organ failure and cognitive decline. Leukodystrophies, on the other hand, happens because of abnormal development or destruction of the myelin sheath. This affects the central nervous system and can lead to seizures and death.
The treatment depends upon the type of dementia. Most forms of dementia cannot be cured, and it is not possible to slow down their progression. However, certain forms of dementia can be treated. Some specific drugs can help improve memory and behavioral changes in children.
Taking care of children with dementia can be a really hard task. It is already very difficult to take care of the elderly suffering from dementia. Imagine, how difficult it would be with the kids.
If you know a child suffering from dementia, the first thing that you need to do is to explain to them what is wrong. You need to assure and comfort them. This will make them less afraid of their symptoms. Encourage them to talk and vent out their feelings.
Children can have a hard time expressing themselves, and if they bottle up their feelings, this will only make matters worse. Children need an outlet. So, try to arrange activities with other kids so that the suffering child does not feel excluded and can take part without feeling guilty.
Talk to the child’s school. Arrange programs that they can participate in to provide them the best support. If people are aware of the child’s condition, they will be in a better position to help the child and understand why the child is behaving in an unusual manner.
It is important for the caregivers to take care of themselves as well or it could lead to burnout. It is easy for caregivers to forget about their health and sleep schedules when taking care of the patient. This can lead to health problems. Constant stress and financial distress can also add to the problems.
Hence, it is important for caregivers to plan ahead. If they notice any symptoms in their loved ones, they should consult specialists immediately. Several professional services are also available that they can use. Social programs can help the patient as well as give the caregiver some time to look after themselves.
ABOUT Alycia Gordan
Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness, and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia