Dementia in children and teenagers differs from dementia in adults, but it’s still a serious business that can be difficult to cope with. Many childhood dementia and adolescent dementia forms include Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders. This article will explain everything you need to know about childhood dementia and how to cope.
What is childhood dementia?
To understand childhood dementia, it’s essential to know the difference between the two types of dementia. People with Alzheimer’s and other senior or adult-onset dementias can start showing symptoms as early as their 30s or 40s. While some people show early signs of cognitive problems such as confusion and trouble remembering things, this is not the case for most people with these illnesses. On the other hand, people with what is referred to as childhood-onset dementias typically experience little or no change in their thinking skills until after puberty. As a result, childhood-onset dementias are diagnosed mainly in children aged ten or older. Although a few rare cases have been reported in younger children.
Childhood dementia facts and statistics
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to 7.7 million people in the United States could have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Dementia is typically not a single condition but rather a broad term to describe various disorders that slowly destroy brain cells. The most common type is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounted for 60-70% of all dementias in America in 2010. Children can also suffer from cognitive impairments caused by conditions like bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as rare genetic disorders such as childhood autism and lissencephaly.
Childhood dementia symptoms
Symptoms of childhood dementia can include one or more of the following: confusion, problems remembering things, getting lost, trouble speaking and understanding language, muscle stiffness, or spasms. The disease is rare, and children diagnosed with it often have additional health issues such as autism spectrum disorder. Symptoms progress differently from person to person and may be worse in some cases than others. Due to the rare disease, there isn’t a lot of research on what causes it yet. But scientists know that genetics plays a significant role and affects communication pathways between brain cells.
- Memory loss
- Trouble concentrating, understanding, learning, and communicating.
- Personality changes
- Severely disturbed sleep
- Behavioral issues such as hyperactivity
- Emotional issues like anxiety and fear
The symptoms of childhood dementia can vary from child to child, but the cognitive loss is expected. That includes language and communication problems. Other symptoms may include unusual personality changes, loss of energy or self-esteem, impaired fine motor skills, and difficulty planning or organizing tasks.
The loss of brain cells means there are fewer connections to create new thoughts or memories. With no new neurons being produced in the hippocampus, these areas have fewer synaptic connections that can help you to recall old memories. It also disrupts your ability to make sense of new information. It will take longer for something to click into place in your mind so you understand what it is all about. As a result, children with a more advanced stage of the disease may have trouble learning and understanding things they once could with ease.
- Inborn errors of metabolism
- Lysosomal disorders
- Peroxisomal disease
- Neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation (NBIA)
Treatment options available
In general, the symptoms of childhood-onset dementias differ from those of the dementias that arise in adulthood. For example, individuals with frontotemporal degeneration are more likely to have problems with impulse control and decision-making, language deficits (as opposed to comprehension difficulties), and aggression. They may also show personality changes. Other childhood-onset dementias can cause aggressive behavior or misbehaving at home, but they still have trouble doing work in school.
Dementia is often undetected because its early signs are easy to mistake for behavior that is part of typical childhood development.
How is childhood dementia diagnosed?
Two tests that can diagnose childhood dementia; are SPECT and MRI. SPECT scans use radioactive dye to look for a lack of blood flow to the brain, and an MRI looks at the brain’s structure. The doctor will want to see changes in both tests, which may indicate a problem. One difficulty isn’t enough. For example, someone with many tumors could have abnormal blood flow to their brain without showing any physical changes on an MRI. The doctor should take both tests to diagnose. So they have more information about what is happening inside the patient’s body.