Dementia is often known only by its individual status as a cognitive condition. But dementia can also manifest as an ancillary disease, in conjunction with a pre-existing mental or physical condition. In these cases, the mental degeneration is referred to as secondary dementia.

What Is Secondary Dementia?

Secondary dementia, which can manifest itself through many different avenues, has a complicated relationship with traditional primary dementia. A secondary dementia is defined as a form of dementia that develops as a peripheral condition to a pre-existing mental illness or physical condition.

An example of this is a patient with Parkinson's disease who can develop dementia in advanced stages of the disease. Parkinson's disease leads to buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain, similar to those found in Alzheimer's disease. In this case, Parkinson's disease is considered the primary condition, and the dementia is considered secondary.

There are three current explanations for secondary dementia:

  • Dementia may have a relationship with Parkinson's disease (and other conditions that may cause dementia), but that has not been fully scientifically examined.
  • It may be that the diseases merely coexist in certain people, with no proven relationship.
  • The perceived relationship is reversed—dementia is actually the primary factor, and Parkinson's disease and other conditions may simply be misdiagnosed.

No matter the case, secondary dementia exclusively appears in conjunction with another pre-existing condition.

Risk Factors For Secondary Dementia

There are several mental and physical conditions that can lead to the symptomatic development of secondary dementia. These conditions may result in a precise form of dementia, or may naturally carry a degeneration of the brain.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Parkinson's disease (though this is sometimes disputed, and the exact relationship is not yet fully understood)
  • Behcet's disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Alexander disease
  • Neuroacanthocytosis
  • Kufs' disease
  • Glutaric aciduria (type 1)

Signs And Symptoms Of Secondary Dementia

Secondary dementia almost exclusively develops in the latest stages of primary conditions. Symptoms can range from basic disorientation or issues in developing short-term memory, to more severe symptoms associated with the later stages of degenerative dementia. Based partially on what kind of condition has led to the degeneration, these symptoms may already exist in a patient. They include:

  • Difficulty in learning or concentrating
  • Drop in reasoning ability
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Problems with recall or developing new memories
  • Distortion of thoughts, emotions and actions
  • Personality or behavioral changes
  • Psychosis

Treatments For Secondary Dementia

Treating the primary disease in its earlier stages may help avoid the development of dementia in the later stages. Aside from reducing the effects of the primary disease, typical treatments for dementia are also effective in reducing the symptoms of secondary dementia. This can involve behavioral or cognitive therapy, physical therapy or pharmaceutical medications designed to alleviate symptoms, and reduce the rate of the disease's progression.

If you currently suffer from a physical or cognitive disorder that affects the brain, there is a possibility that the condition could eventually lead to secondary dementia. For more information on the risks of your particular disorder, it is best to consult a medical professional.