Can someone with autism develop dementia?
Numerous scholars have been captivated by the research on dementia in adults with autism due to findings that suggest a link between autism and dementia. Researchers have discovered that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are at a higher risk of developing degenerative dementia in adulthood compared to their neurotypical counterparts.
Can someone with autism develop dementia? Although it’s a fact that everyone experiences cognitive decline as we age, not all will develop dementia. However, there is a greater risk for those on the spectrum. In this blog by ABA Centers of Florida, our goal is to delve into critical issues such as dementia in adults with autism. We intend to explore the various types of dementia and examine its correlation with autism. We aim to implement preventative measures to help maintain cognitive health.
Autism Traits Impacting Cognitive Impairment
Each individual diagnosed with ASD falls into a unique position on the spectrum, which encompasses a variety of levels that classify the traits of autism according to their severity. Although it is common for people with autism to face difficulties in social interactions, communication, and stimulus processing due to the nature of how their brains make neural connections, each individual will experience a unique level of difficulty or ability.
However, these challenges inherent to the autism spectrum have connections to dementia in adults with autism. Why? A slow and steady decrease in mental capabilities, including focus, memory, communication, reasoning, and language skills, characterizes cognitive decline. These are common challenges in individuals with autism. If individuals with ASD don’t receive prompt assistance, these symptoms can escalate over time, resulting in severe cognitive deterioration or even dementia. Such outcomes can have a profound effect on a person’s everyday life.
Common difficulties in autism include:
- People with autism may find it challenging to communicate both verbally and non-verbally, often interpreting things in a literal sense. They might have trouble expressing their feelings and retaining information, which can affect their capability to establish relationships.
- Individuals on the autism spectrum may exhibit hyper- or hyposensitivity. The former makes them more prone to sensory overload due to environmental stimuli such as sounds, lights, and textures. On the other hand, those with hyposensitivity may constantly seek out stimuli, making it difficult for them to interact with their environment.
- Repetitive movements, actions, and phrases are usual in people with autism, serving as a strategy to self-regulate. In addition, they tend to devote all their attention to specific topics of interest, which complicates establishing conversations on other issues and can generate challenges in connecting and interacting with others who do not understand these traits.
- For people with autism, it can be complex to organize themselves to remember things that are not within their interests, to be flexible in thinking and routine, and to self-monitor. These difficulties can impact the way they carry out daily tasks, solve problems, and adapt to change.
Understanding Dementia in Adults with Autism
According to the CDC, dementia is not a standalone condition but rather a collection of symptoms that can define a particular condition or type of dementia. In general, dementia refers to neurological deterioration that impacts cognitive abilities such as logic, memory, communication, and behavior as we age.
Among the prevalent types of dementia, some variants include:
- Alzheimer’s: As the most prevalent form of dementia in individuals 65 and older, Alzheimer’s impacts over six million individuals in the United States, according to data from the National Institute on Aging. This progressive disease impacts memory and reasoning functions. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and those with this neurodegenerative condition face challenges such as cognitive decline, disorientation, and memory loss.
- Lewy Body Dementia: Characterized by alterations in cognition, mobility, memory, visual hallucinations, and symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, this form of dementia affects over one million individuals in the United States who are 50 years old or older. As stated by the National Institutes of Health, it ranks as the second most prevalent type of dementia.
- Vascular Dementia: Individuals who have experienced a stroke or other vascular conditions may be more prone to developing vascular dementia, which affects memory, thinking, and behavior.
- Frontotemporal Dementia: In contrast to the previously mentioned types, frontotemporal dementia can manifest in individuals as young as 40, impacting the frontal and temporal lobes responsible for controlling personality, language, and behavior.
- Mixed Dementia: This variation occurs when two types of dementia coexist. The Alzheimer’s Society asserts that one in ten individuals is diagnosed with mixed dementia.
Understanding the different types of dementia enables us to make connections between the symptoms associated with these conditions and the challenges often faced by people with autism. It is critical to note that autism and dementia share several common symptoms, such as communication, behavioral, memory, and language problems. These points of convergence underscore the importance of specialized care and adaptive approaches to address the unique needs of individuals who may face the intersection of these two conditions.
Exploring the Interplay Between Autism and Dementia
The intriguing potential connection between autism and dementia in adults has drawn substantial attention from the scientific community. The National Library of Medicine found out that adults with autism have a three-fold higher incidence of early-onset dementia (before the age of 65) compared to the general population. It also suggests that cognitive impairment and behavioral disorders in these individuals may contribute to the emergence of neurodegenerative diseases like frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Additional research carried out by Alzheimer’s Disease & Associated Disorders shows that participants with higher autism scores experience cognitive impairment at an earlier age than those with lower scores. Moreover, the severity of cognitive impairment is more significant in the autism group, further emphasizing the link between behaviors characteristic of autism and early-onset dementia.
Reducing the Risk of Dementia in Adults with Autism
Although not all individuals with autism will develop dementia in adulthood, understanding the potential risk and connection between the two conditions can help professionals and caregivers identify and implement strategies to aid individuals with autism who are at risk for dementia. With the goal of promoting brain health and reducing the risk of dementia in adults with autism, experts recommend the following strategies:
Physical activity is closely related to cognitive health, and various research has shown that maintaining healthy habits can help improve brain health in the general population. In addition to exercising daily, it is essential to incorporate healthy eating habits and follow a varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, fats, and proteins.
Participation in Social Activities:
Fostering social connections is vital to any individual’s well-being and promotes cognitive health. Establishing meaningful relationships and connecting with others through group activities benefits both mental and cognitive health.
Recognizing the unique needs of each individual on the spectrum is critical to creating environments that reduce stress and sensory overload. Tailoring care and interventions to each individual’s communication style and preferences is essential to supporting their cognitive health.
Regular Health Checks:
Monitoring health conditions on a regular basis is vital to identify any potential illness on time, thus ensuring optimal brain care and overall health.
ABA Therapy to Strengthen Essential Skills:
ABA therapy provides cognitive engagement via treatment strategies that incorporate playful activities, art, and positive reinforcement. These diverse methodologies enhance the development of social and communication abilities while also promoting positive behaviors. This personalized approach directs therapy sessions toward each client’s interests and goals, ensuring continuous and lasting progress throughout life.
ABA Centers of Florida and ABA Therapy for Autism
With the growing neurodiverse community in various Florida locations such as Tampa, Orlando, Kissimmee, and Port Saint Lucie, we at ABA Centers of Florida recognize the need to provide specialized support for individuals with autism. With our autism services, our goal is to empower neurodiverse individuals in the Sunshine State by enhancing skills that will pave the way for their future success and overall well-being. Because caring for brain health is essential, we promote strategies and approaches aimed at addressing the need to promote cognitive health to reduce the risk of dementia in adults with autism.