Secondary dementia diseases

Secondary dementia diseases cover around eighty diseases and injuries, e.g. brain tumours, alcohol abuse and various deficiencies. A common denominator here is that dementia is not the main symptom but that in certain cases they can cause dementia. Some forms of secondary dementia can be treated, and the symptoms of dementia can be relieved if action is taken in time.

The following are examples of secondary dementia:

Serious road traffic accidents may cause trauma that results in brain damage. The brain tissue may be injured in such a way that a dementia condition arises.

Normally, the cerebral fluid that keeps the brain lubricated is filtered out through a fine membrane. Hydrocephalus is where the normal flow is blocked, causing an increase in pressure in the cavities of the brain where the cerebral fluid is produced. The pressure can be so high that it results in dementia symptoms. The condition can be treated. By inserting a shunt into the brain’s cavities, you can divert the fluid through a fine catheter and down into, for example, the abdominal cavity to reduce the pressure on the brain tissue.

A tumour located where it presses against the cerebral cortex can cause dementia-like symptoms. In the case of a meningioma, i.e. a tumour that generally does not metastasise (produce secondary growths), the symptoms may disappear if the tumour is removed.  Surgical treatment is not always possible, however, and does not help with dementia symptoms if the tumour has spread within the brain (i.e. is malignant).

The brain can also be affected by infections, such as the herpes virus, HIV and other infectious diseases. If this is the case, brain inflammation can produce permanent damage and lead to dementia.

One type of infection in the brain differs from the others. It is when a very small protein in the body, called a “prion”, has mutated and then rapidly destroys brain tissue. However, this kind of disease is not common. We are familiar with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is a prion disease. The epidemic that hit the United Kingdom in the 1990s was caused by a prion disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). It is thought that people became infected with this kind of prion disease by ingesting infected food, either infected brain tissue or meat from an animal that had eaten infected brain tissue. 

Metabolism disorders can produce dementia symptoms if there is an overproduction or underproduction of the thyroid hormone. These disorders can be treated and the dementia symptoms can disappear. Calcium metabolism can also be disrupted, which can produce different symptoms similar to dementia. 

Deficiencies can cause dementia symptoms, the most common being deficiencies in the Vitamin B group. Our body needs to provide the building blocks that our nerve cells need to build neurotransmitters. Important building blocks include Vitamin B12, folic acid, B6 and B1. The reason why many elderly people suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency is because the absorption in their gastrointestinal system has worsened with age. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry and eggs. The folic acid vitamin can be found in leafy vegetables. 

Alcohol is toxic in large quantities. The brain’s nerve cells are sensitive to alcohol. Research has shown that a small or moderate amount of alcohol has a positive effect on nerve cells, while large amounts are toxic. Other substances, including solvents, are also toxic to the brain’s nerve cells.

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