Knowing the Facts about Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease 

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Dementia affects about 50 million people worldwide. The word “dementia” isn’t the disease itself; rather, it’s a term to describe the many cognitive decline symptoms, such as memory loss, changes in behaviour, and trouble concentrating. 

There are over 400 types of dementia — and the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that slowly destroys thinking and memory skills, and the risk of developing the disease significantly increases with age. An estimated 1 in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and 1 in 6 people over the age of 80.

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, there are also lesser-known types, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). CJD is a brain disorder that quickly worsens overtime. Symptoms typically start to show at around age 60. Although it’s much rarer to have CJD than other types of dementia, knowing its signs could prevent a lot of hardship and pain. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s recent decline in cognitive behaviour, you’ll want to read on to learn more about this rare but severe illness.

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The General Symptoms

CJD is a disease that affects the brain and is incurable. Initial symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory 
  • Slurred speech
  • Change in intellect and personality
  • Loss of balance and co-ordination
  • Vision problems
  • Jerky knee movements

It’s a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by abnormal, infectious proteins in the brain called prions. Prions build up in the brain, causing brain cells to die and more prions to infect other brain cells. Besides the initial symptoms, others to watch for depend on the type of CJD your loved one might have. There are three different types, including:

  • Sporadic CJD, which affects the nervous system — you’ll notice neurological symptoms, such as slurred speech and difficulty walking. Often, patients diagnosed with CJD live for only a few months to one year.
  • Variant CJD — psychological symptoms, such as changes in behaviour and mood, will occur first.  
  • Familial CJD — follows a similar pattern as sporadic, but the symptoms take a couple of years, rather than months, to develop.

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There’s currently no cure for this disease, so the focus is to provide as much comfort as possible to people with the disease. For example, if the person you’re worried about has psychological symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, consider taking prescription medication to help. Many people with CJD create an advance directive when they’re first diagnosed. Such a process involves clearly outlining what they would like to happen once the illness begins to advance. 

Once the disease progresses far enough into the brain, many people won’t have the ability to communicate clearly. An advance directive might state that they’ll prefer to receive on-going healthcare at home and avoid long-term nursing homes. They might also note what kind of medications they’d be willing to take and which they would like to avoid.

If you notice any irregular behaviour in a loved one that you believe could be CJD or any dementia, seek professional advice immediately. The faster you speak with a medical professional, the better it will be for your loved one. They’ll suggest useful healthcare options, such as a live-in caregiver, so that you and your family won’t have to face this challenging time alone.