Dementia in Children – Causes, Signs and Treatment
Dementia in children is rare, but it exists. Let’s start with some questions. Does your child seem very irritable or uncooperative these days? Does he/she appear not to pay attention in classes or just slip into a daze every time someone speaks? Does your child have difficulty answering simple questions or picking up easy skills?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are, you may be seeing the stages of dementia regression to childhood or, let’s say, childhood dementia.
Although dementia is a cognitive condition that is often associated with adults, it can affect children, too. On the outside, the children may appear healthy, but mentally, they won’t be functioning optimally.
What Is Dementia?
According to the medical definition, Dementia is a mental genetic condition which is noted by memory loss and impaired cognitive functioning to the point where it affects daily life. As it progresses, mental faculties decline in the person, causing difficulties in thinking, recognising, and speaking, too. The condition is genetic, which means a child is born with the disorder.
It is important to note that in some cases, dementia symptoms may show early in young children, while it may not show until the teenage years in some children. One thing that remains common in all children facing childhood dementia is that the disease progresses. Whether it is slow or fast, the brain eventually loses the ability to read, write, talk, play, and to other functions properly.
What Causes Dementia in Kids?
There are several reasons behind dementia in kids. Some of the most common ones are:
1. Heavy Metal Poisoning
Heavy metal poisoning from lead and toxic substances can cause dementia in kids. These can be found in food sources, too, so care must be exercised.
Hypothyroidism translates to having an underactive thyroid gland which is unable to produce thyroxine hormones in kids. There are acquired hypothyroidism and congenital hypothyroidism, which develop during the infancy stage.
It’s inflammation of the brain due to a viral infection.
4. Batten Disease
A type of inherited medical disorder that’s due to a defective gene. Symptoms show between the ages of 5 and 10 for this.
5. Niemann-Pick Disease
A neurodegenerative disorder that causes progressive dementia in kids.
6. Lafora Body Disease
An inherited neurodegenerative disorder that involves epileptic seizures in kids, which get worse with time.
7. Injuries to the Brain
Any physical injuries to the brain, trauma or impaired cognitive development due to injuries received can result in childhood dementia.
Viral infections and other types of transmittable or inherited infections may trigger Dementia in kids.
What Are the Symptoms of Childhood Dementia?
Most of the symptoms of childhood dementia are very similar to the ones that appear in adults. The problem is, some of the symptoms mirror symptoms which show up in other disorders, too. The physician will run an exam on the child to confirm whether it is dementia and not something else.
Some of the symptoms of childhood dementia are:
1. Loss of Memory – This includes forgetting newly learned concepts, not being able to remember names and faces, and even forgetting how to speak.
2. Inability to Think Clearly or Reason Correctly – The child may have difficulty organising thoughts in their head or be unable to express themselves clearly.
3. Inability to Learn Simple Skills or Perform Easy Tasks – From being able to eat finger foods to having difficulty with hand-eye coordination, simple tasks will become difficult for the child.
4. Forgetting Old Skills and Failing Intellectually – If the child was good at something and suddenly forgot how to do that, it’s a red flag.
5. Stark Changes in Behaviour, Language, and Emotional States – The child may show mood swings and behaviour like angry screams and crying for no reason.
6. Anxiety, Fear, or Nervous Attitude for no Reason
7. General Clumsiness (More Frequently) – Falling or tripping often, bumping without seeing things ahead, etc.
8. Not Able to Navigate to New Places, Getting Lost Easily, and Forgetting About Previously Visited Locations
9. No Personal Hygiene or Lack Thereof
10. Deterioration in Fine and Gross Motor Skills, Impulsiveness, and Loss of Visual Acuity – The child’s muscle tone might deteriorate in their arms and legs, they may lose their vision or be unable to see properly, and in extreme cases, have poor hand-eye coordination, too.
How to Treat Pediatric Dementia?
Unfortunately, there are no specific treatment protocols available for progressive dementia. But there are a few things parents could do to make life better for their child:
1. Make the Child Understand
Make the child understand what he/she is going through using gentle approach. Talk softly, be supportive, and give them time/patience for their condition to sink in. Explaining dementia to a child may be the hardest thing to do as a parent, so getting help from other family members is also beneficial.
2. Take Them to a Doctor
A doctor can correctly diagnose children for this condition and see if they truly have dementia or if it is something else.
3. Improve Diet/Nutrition
If the child is eating too much processed food, sugary substances, or salty food, it’s time you clean up their diet. Granted, you can’t completely reverse dementia, but changing one’s diet does make a huge difference in cognitive functioning and performance.
4. Don’t Delay the Diagnosis
If the child exhibits any of the signs and symptoms of dementia or you suspect something is wrong with them, don’t hesitate to visit a doctor for a diagnosis. A delayed diagnosis could even turn into death when left ignored, in extreme cases.
5. Encourage Exercise
Don’t let the child be sedentary, and make sure to clock in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
6. Play Games
Games that stimulate the mind, like chess, sudoku, and puzzles can help the child understand and learn about reasoning. If the child has difficulty grasping concepts in school, talk to the teacher and get them enrolled them in special education classes.
Can You Prevent Dementia in Children?
According to research, the best way to prevent dementia in children is to begin by monitoring their nutrition. A Mediterranean diet, no added sugars and salts, plenty of physical exercise, and learning every day are proven ways to prevent dementia or at least slow down its progression. Lifestyle and environmental factors play a huge role.
Finding out the child has dementia can be a heartbreaking experience for any parent. In many cases, the carers/parents have also experienced psychological problems along with financial worries while caring for the child. So, it is very important to take care of the nutrition and well-being of the babies from the pregnancy stage. If dementia hasn’t progressed and it’s in its early stages, then there may still be hope for treatment and prevention. However, if it has already progressed, then you have to see your options and learn more about what you can do with your doctor.
1. Childhood dementia; Dementia Australia; https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/childhood-dementia
2. What is childhood dementia?; Childhood Dementia Initiative; https://www.childhooddementia.org/what-is-childhood-dementia
3. Baker, J., Jeon, Y., Goodenough, B., Low, L., Bryden, C., Hutchinson, K., & Richards, L. (2018). What do children need to know about dementia? The perspectives of children and people with personal experience of dementia; International Psychogeriatrics, 30(5), 673-684. doi:10.1017/S1041610217002022; Cambridge University Press; https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics/article/abs/what-do-children-need-to-know-about-dementia-the-perspectives-of-children-and-people-with-personal-experience-of-dementia/9B078B7C07C6D046C42F3A11F4303BF8; October 2017
4. Georgina Luscombe Research Officer, et al.; Younger people with dementia: diagnostic issues, effects on carers and use of services; Wiley Online Library; https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/%28SICI%291099-1166%28199805%2913%3A5%3C323%3A%3AAID-GPS768%3E3.0.CO%3B2-O; December 1998