The word dementia has been sparking fear since the moment the term was coined. Those who suffer from any disease belonging to this category often have their whole lives turned upside down; people who used to matter and bring joy to their lives no longer register on their memory, as if they don’t exist anymore. Furthermore, reasoning is no longer as easy as it once was; the brain is addled, and even the simplest tasks such as bathing, getting dressed, performing household chores, or even walking from point A to B becomes impossible without assistance.
That being said, dementia not only affects the person who is suffering from it, it also deeply involves the patient’s loved ones, as they often have to alter their lifestyles in order to accommodate the care they must provide.
Technically speaking, dementia is not a disease itself, it is a term used to refer to a group of diseases who are similar in symptoms. These diseases coincide in the fact that all of them severely limit the subject’s reasoning ability, and consequently greatly affect the way they live their lives. These diseases usually manifest naturally during the person’s senior years, frequently after 60 years of age, though they sometimes can be produced or triggered by sustaining injuries to the head. Fortunately, only 1 or 2 percent of people actually suffer from dementia.
However, its incidence is also doubled for every 5 years that pass. In this sense, those who manage to reach 85 years of age without suffering from any form of dementia will have somewhere around 30 to 50 percent chance of developing the disease. For those who have aging parents, or an old grandparent in the family, it pays to keep an eye out for dementia, as early detection can often be quintessential to securing the best quality of life for the patient and reducing the costs associated with the disease.
On the other hand, fibromyalgia also poses its own sets of costs. As a disease that has been steadily on the rise in the past few years. The resources aimed at understanding, treating and improving the patient’s quality of life have also increased exponentially, a fact that was made apparent after the release of a 2017 study on fibromyalgia and dementia.
Fibromyalgia is a disease that, for the longest time, had been regarded as a psychosomatic disorder. In other words, it was believed to be a disease that was caused by the mind and manifested as physical symptoms in the body. However, research on the condition has resulted in a theory that’s garnering a rising following, which states that, instead of a somatic disorder, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are caused by a chemical imbalance in the patient’s central nervous system. While this theory explains most, if not all, fibromyalgia symptoms, some clinicians are still reluctant to accept it, or even consider fibromyalgia as a disease itself. Due to this fact, it is estimated that around 90% of fibromyalgia still go undetected, and the same number of patients fail to receive appropriate treatment for their condition.
As a disease, fibromyalgia is characterized by a constant sensation of exhaustion and fatigue, alongside great physical aching and pain, especially focused on certain parts of the body, often referred to as tender points. Consequently, due to the pain, those who suffer from this disease frequently have trouble resting at night and performing their daily tasks. However, one of the most elusive symptoms associated with the disease is the aptly-named fibro-fog, which consists of difficulties to find appropriate wording, or to concentrate on tasks, limiting the person’s ability to multi-task and to think with clarity. Due to its widely-varying symptomatology, fibromyalgia can be considered as an all-inclusive disease, which affects the patient in nearly all areas of their lives.
Of all the symptoms it can cause, the latter is the most serious of them all, as only a handful of diseases can cause cognitive issues on top of their physical symptoms. Other conditions that may cause cognitive issues include autism, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and cancer (due to the effects of chemotherapy).
Luckily, the cognitive symptoms caused by fibromyalgia are mild, in comparison, though they can raise a big red flag: is fibro-fog a prelude to something far worse? Are fibromyalgia patients more likely to develop dementia at some point in their lives?
According to a study in 2016 involving 94 individuals examined the relation between fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s. Specifically, they discovered that the mental structures involved in memory-establishment, and which were defective in Alzheimer’s patients, were mostly intact in those who suffered from fibromyalgia. Furthermore, this study revealed that, in fibromyalgia patients, the nature of their fibro-fog has more to do with filtering issues in the patient’s brain. Those who suffer from fibromyalgia have trouble focusing on relevant data at hand, and instead, have their trains of thought interrupted by innocuous stimuli that healthy brains are able to successfully filter out. This suggests that, when it comes to cognitive impairment, the problem with fibromyalgia lies solely with the patient’s inability to filter out distractions, which leads to the aforementioned fibro-fog.
However, another study recently performed in 2017, and which involved over 165,000 individuals has discovered evidence that is in direct conflict with the previous investigation. The study in question examined over 41,000 fibromyalgia patients, as well as 124,000 healthy individuals over 50 years of age as a control group, over the course of 10 years.
After compensating for different factors such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, and comorbidity, the study discovered that fibromyalgia patients are, indeed, more likely to suffer from dementia. Furthermore, they discovered that this relation is not exclusive to only one type of dementia, as the patients were more likely to suffer from every single variation of the disease, with Alzheimer’s and non-vascular dementia leading the list in terms of frequency. Furthermore, fibromyalgia patients who also suffered from depression, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, stroke, or liver issues had even more risk of developing dementia.
This isn’t to say that fibromyalgia patients over 60 years of age would unequivocally develop dementia, it’s just that the risk is increased significantly. Furthermore, the link between dementia and fibromyalgia still remains a mystery. However, the researchers involved in the study have cited the brain inflammation common in fibromyalgia as the main culprit of dementia in the patients. For this reason, it is suggested that those who are suffering from fibromyalgia keep an eye on any symptoms, in particular, which might suggest underlying dementia.