The causes of dementia

Dementia can have many different causes. This is because there are many different forms of dementia, each with their own cause. It is also not always known what exactly causes dementia. It is known that certain factors greatly increase the risk of dementia. This article provides an overview of factors that increase the risk of dementia and can therefore be a cause. Dementia always involves damage to the brain cells. There are two types of damage, internal or external damage. In Alzheimer’s disease, the damage is internal. The changes take place in the brain cells, which means the brain cells can no longer work properly. Eventually they die off. The external damage can be a result of a lack of oxygen. For example, external damage can damage the blood vessels in the brain (vascular dementia, for more information see: forms. Many forms of dementia have their own cause, dementia is not one specific disease with one specific cause. Dementia is a collective name for various diseases. It can best be compared to an umbrella under which dozens of forms of dementia belong.
There are many things that increase the risk of dementia. A number of those risk factors are listed below . People with the following diseases/conditions/habits are more likely to on dementia:


When AIDS and dementia coincide, this is also called the AIDS dementia complex . AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus reduces the immune system and causes infections. The cause of the AIDS dementia complex is that infections also occur in the brain and nervous system. As a result, the brain can no longer function normally. The symptoms are the same as with other forms of dementia. Dementia due to AIDS usually occurs in the final stages of AIDS.

Brain tumors

In a brain tumor (cancer), cells are damaged, which means they can no longer function properly. This can lead to dementia because the cells can no longer do their job and therefore things can no longer be controlled. Irradiation of a brain tumor can also result in dementia. During radiation, cells can also be damaged and can therefore no longer function properly. The symptoms are the same as with other forms of dementia.

Down’s syndrome

Many people with Down syndrome develop dementia between the ages of 35 and 45. This is because they have 1 chromosome too many (no. 21). This chromosome contains the information for the β-app, which is the precursor of amyloid (Alzheimer’s). Amyloid plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. People with Down syndrome therefore produce more β-app due to their extra chromosome, which means they are also more likely to develop dementia. Women who have had a child with Down syndrome at a young age are also more likely to develop dementia. Having a child at an older age increases the risk of Down syndrome because the cells become older. If a mother has had a child with Down syndrome at a young age, this may indicate that she is more susceptible to aging symptoms.

A serious vitamin deficiency

Vitamins are building blocks. If you consume too few vitamins (i.e. building blocks), the cells in the brain cannot be rebuilt. As a result, you can miss parts in your brain because they cannot be produced. Because you miss those pieces, they cannot function, which can cause dementia. Research is currently still being conducted into what exactly causes special nutritional ingredients to cause dementia.

Wrong or too much medication/drugs/alcohol use

(too much) Alcohol, drugs and medication use can damage the brain to such an extent that those parts can no longer function. With alcohol, this dementia is called Korsakov’s syndrome. The difference between Korsakov’s and other forms of dementia is that Korsakov’s is not a progressive disease. This means if the drinker stops, the disease remains stable. So there will be no more damage. This is also the case with dementia, which is caused by medication and drug use.


If the brain receives a major blow, larger or smaller brain damage may occur. These damages often go unnoticed because your brain has enough reserve capacity to absorb it. However, this does make your brain more susceptible to aging in the brain, which can cause Alzheimer’s disease. Being more susceptible is because your brain does not have more reserve capacity to fall back on if the parts it used when damaged fail (for example due to a concussion).

High bloodpressure

High blood pressure can damage the veins in the brain. This means less oxygen can reach the brain. As a result, parts of the brain can become seriously damaged or die. This form of dementia is called vascular dementia (for more information see: types).


With arteriosclerosis, all kinds of fatty material builds up on the inner layer of the arteries for various reasons. This can narrow the artery, causing less blood to pass through. This can cause too little blood to reach the brain, causing parts to become seriously damaged or die. (vascular dementia, for more information see: forms)


With diabetes there is an imbalance between glucose and insulin in the body. This results in increased blood sugar levels. This can cause sugars to accumulate in the bloodstream. This can lead to blockages, causing too little oxygen to reach the brain, causing parts of the brain to die or become damaged (vascular dementia, for more information see: forms).

People who smoke

Cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine can cause your blood pressure to increase, which in turn damages your blood vessels, resulting in too little oxygen going to your brain. Which in turn means that parts of your brain do not receive enough oxygen. The carbon monoxide you ingest also means that less oxygen can be transported to your brain. These things cause parts to become damaged or die (vascular dementia, for more information see: forms). This causes functions to disappear and dementia can occur.

Other causes

Moderate consumption of alcohol (1-3 glasses per day) and the previously increased use of caffeine can protect you against dementia. Dementia is also hereditary in some forms. Psychosocial factors may also play a role in the development of dementia. Psychosocial factors are all kinds of events and experiences in people’s lives that have a major influence on them. For example, older people notice that many people around them are dying, which can be quite a blow. All kinds of other things also disappear, such as their work, raising children and so on. People feel less useful. This can accelerate the dementia process. This is because adrenal cortex hormones are produced in response to stress. The function of that hormone is to protect the body against the effects of stress. The hormones have various negative effects, for example on the hippocampus (plays a role in information processing and emotional experience). Research has shown that increased concentrations of adrenal cortex hormones in the blood are associated with a deterioration in learning performance. This can accelerate dementia because stress makes it more difficult to store (learn) new things. The older a person gets, the greater the risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s.
Of people aged 90 and over, 40% have dementia. Women aged 75 and older also have dementia more often than men their age. In approximately ninety percent of people who show symptoms of dementia, the cause lies in the brain. It is not possible to examine the brain of a living person without adverse consequences for the health of the person suffering from dementia, so it is only possible after death to say what the cause of dementia was.

read more

  • How do you deal with dementia?
  • Dementia research
  • What can be done against dementia?
  • What types of dementia are there?
  • The symptoms and stages of dementia
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