Childhood dementia is a mental disorder. This condition cannot be categorized as a specific disease, but manifests in the form of various symptoms.
Dementia is an inherited medical condition which alters the brain metabolism to the extent that it can turn fatal in affected children. Although dementia is categorized as a rare disease, globally there are around 50,000 children who are affected by dementia.
Medically, childhood dementia is termed as neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL). There are fourteen types of known NCL diseases. Currently, there is no cure for any of these fourteen diseases.
The symptoms of childhood dementia vary as they depend on the cause of dementia. However, it is extremely important to identify and treat the symptoms at the earliest. A delayed diagnosis and treatment can result in severe complications, and even an early death of the affected children.
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Common Symptoms in Children Affected with Dementia
The type of symptom depends on the cause of dementia. Symptoms like forgetfulness and poor communication skills can be some of the early signs of dementia. As the disease progresses, the child may find it difficult to even recognize his/her family.
Some of the common symptoms are:
- Loss of memory: It is natural for all children to forget things. However, if a child is regularly forgetting things or some major life incidents, it may indicate dementia. However, loss of memory is one of the symptoms of dementia, and does not confirm that the child is suffering from dementia. Doctors look for at least two deranged cognitive functions when the child is fully conscious before confirming dementia.
- Difficulty in language: Children suffering from dementia have difficult in processing language. It becomes challenging for them to assimilate and contextualize multiple words and sentences. In general, it becomes hard for them to express and understand language, which normal children might easily do. The affected children have difficult in both verbal and non-verbal form of communication. However, not all affected children suffer from this symptom.
- Decline in intellectual skills: Children suffering from dementia have poor reasoning and problem solving capability. They face difficulties formulating a concept and in creative thinking. These symptoms deteriorate over time, and it becomes challenging for such children to grasp and memorize newly taught things.
- Changes in personality: Frequently changing behavior is usually seen in the children suffering from dementia. Such behavioral/personality changes include the following:
- Child often loses self-control, and has frequent mood swings
- Experiences restlessness, and gets extremely angry and anxious
- Often gets confused, and forgets frequently-visited places and known people
- Displays an extreme behavior such as howling
- Cries over little things
- Is often unclean, and unable to keep a good personal hygiene
- Is unorganized and lacks aptitude
- Is nervous, fearful, and angry
Clinical Presentation at Various Stages of Child Development
Above-mentioned symptoms do not occur alone. They are usually coupled with other symptoms. Below is a list of some of the onset symptoms which are present at various stages of NCL:
- Disease onset symptoms at the time of birth: Such infants suffer from epileptic attacks soon after the birth. Epileptic seizures and microcephaly can be seen in such children.
- Disease onset symptoms in infants: Dementia at this age presents with a lapsed psychomotor development, and an acute form of epilepsy of an unknown etiology. Such children have a decreased muscle tone (muscle hypotonia) and progressive brain degradation. They also suffer from retinopathy which leads to the loss of the vision.
- Children at school age: The early symptoms include loss of vision, epilepsy, muscular hypotonia, and deranged muscular coordination (ataxia). Atrophy occurs in the cerebellar and cerebral parts of the brain. Loss of vision is usually diagnosed later in such children. These children usually are generally able to live up to only 15 years of age.