Does your child have trouble remembering everyday things? Is he/she sometimes unable to communicate effectively? Is your child having difficulties recognizing family members? Although you may account for this behavior simply as a difference of personality, these symptoms may point to something far more serious.
Yes! Children suffer from it, too
When you hear the word dementia, you probably associate it with elderly people. As we age, our cognitive abilities gradually decrease, making us forget things or feel confused. Although this is expected with old age, if the symptoms appear worse than what’s considered normal, all the arrows point towards dementia. But isn’t this only for the elderly? The risk of children acquiring this terrible disease is very real. Some children may appear to be completely healthy but their mind may not be functioning normally.
So what is dementia?
Dementia is a general term for a range of conditions that cause a gradual decrease of cognitive abilities. Putting it simply, it is a loss of mental skills that renders a person unable to perform daily activities.
It impairs the memory and the ability to think, reason, and plan. The effects of dementia get worse over time and the time this takes differs individually. For some, the symptoms stay unchanged for years.
For others, loss of skills occurs very fast. Not everyone suffers from dementia but the chances of getting this disease increases as you grow older. People with dementia cannot tend for themselves in the illness’s later stages, so they require round the cloud assistance.
The damage caused by dementia is not just limited to the patient but also takes a hefty toll on family and friends. Some different types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), mixed dementia, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, hydrocephalus, Huntington’s disease, and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
Dementia in children
There are various health conditions and disorders that can give rise to dementia in children. Different types of genetic illnesses, head injuries, and infections can adversely affect the brain of your child. Below are some of the causes:
Heavy metal poisoning
Chronic heavy metal exposure, such as lead, can cause symptoms of dementia in children. These toxic metals are present everywhere including in the food we eat and the air we breathe. The adverse effects of heavy metal poisoning are more prevalent in children and can lead to problems well into the adulthood.
Hypothyroidism in children is caused by an underactive thyroid gland that is unable to meet the thyroxine hormone requirement of the body. There are two types of hypothyroidism that include congenital and acquired. Congenital hypothyroidism is present during infancy whereas acquired hypothyroidism develops later on in childhood.
Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain caused by a viral infection. Children less than a year old are at a higher risk of developing this infection. Also, this infection is more common in areas with a large population of ticks and mosquitos.
Batten disease is a form of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses disorder that affects children. Batten disease is an inherited disorder caused by a defective gene that results in the accumulation of lipofuscin in the brain. The symptoms usually appear between the age of 5 and 10 years with the onset of vision problems.
Niemann-Pick is a rare inherited neurodegenerative disorder that leads to progressive dementia amongst children. The disease causes excess storage of cholesterol and glycosphingolipids in the brain.
Lafora body disease
Lafora body disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. The disease is characterized by the onset of epileptic seizures that worsen over time. Children suffering from Lafora disease experience cognitive decline and, ultimately, dementia.
As we have seen, most disorders that cause dementia amongst children are rare and terminal. It is imperative to identify the symptoms early on so that proper medical care and support is given to the child. The indicators of childhood dementia differ individually, depending on the type and cause of dementia. However, there are some common symptoms that you need to be aware of as parents:
One of the most common symptoms of dementia in children is memory loss. We all forget things from time to time. However, if your child is forgetting things more frequently or asking the same questions repeatedly, it could be an indication of dementia.
Memory loss alone does not mean that your child has dementia. In order to make a complete diagnosis, doctors search for at least two impaired cognitive functions that are present without loss of consciousness.
Problems with language
Children with dementia may have trouble putting together words and difficulty with expressive and receptive language skills in general. You may notice abnormalities in both verbal and non-verbal communication.
Loss of intellectual skills
Children suffering from dementia can display a lack of problem-solving ability. Since the symptoms of dementia are generally progressive in nature, the impairment of the intellectual function gradually worsens over time. This can lead to an inability to learn new things.
Most children with dementia undergo behavioral changes over the course of the disease, these changes including:
- Mood swings and lack of emotional control
- Displaying anxiety, anger, and uneasiness
- Confusion about people and places
- Screaming and crying often
- Lack of personal hygiene
Dealing with dementia in children
The treatment of dementia depends on its cause. Most types of progressive dementias do not have any cure and there is no way to slow down its progression. However, there are certain types of treatments available to help improve the symptoms of dementia.
It is extremely important for parents to develop an effective support structure to manage dementia in children. Understanding the symptoms in detail and reducing or eliminating the triggers can help to manage the behavioral problems associated with dementia.