Did you want to know more about Dementia? Dementia is not a single disease – in fact it describes a range of symptoms caused by diseases of the brain. These symptoms affect multiple brain functions including memory, behaviour and our ability to do everyday tasks.
As dementia could happen to any of us or to someone we know, this means that we all need to learn a little bit more about dementia – what the signs are, what the risk factors are and how we can help people who have dementia.
The most common types of dementia include:
Brain cells are surrounded by abnormal protein and their internal structure is also damaged. As it progresses chemical connections between brain cells are lost and the nerve cells die. Memory symptoms may be noticed first but other symptoms can include difficulty finding the right words, solving problems or making decisions and, disturbance in vision and perception.
When blood supply to the brain is reduced because of narrowing or blockages in blood vessels brain cells can be damaged or die. Vascular dementia symptoms can occur suddenly after a major stroke or over time through a series of small strokes or damage to blood vessels in the brain. Symptoms may be similar to those of Alzheimer’s and also include problems with planning and concentrating. People may experience short periods of intense confusion.
Early/Young Onset Dementia
Younger or early onset dementia affects people under the age of 65. Most people with early/younger onset are in their 40s or 50s. Since doctors don’t usually suspect dementia in younger age groups, the process of getting diagnosed can sometimes be long and difficult. People who are diagnosed with young or early onset dementia may have a strong history of dementia in their family and genetics may have a role in the development of their condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Common symptoms of dementia may include memory loss, difficulties with thinking and carrying out everyday tasks, problem solving or language and changes in mood and behaviour.
The early signs and symptoms of dementia can be subtle and hard to recognise. Many conditions, such as stroke, depression and infections, severe vitamin deficiencies, thyroid abnormalities and side effects of medications, can cause dementia-like symptoms and it’s therefore important not to assume that any changes are due to dementia without an evaluation.
Equally, however, it is important not to assume that any changes are simply down to getting older – if someone notices changes like memory loss or any of the other symptoms described above, they should discuss their concerns with their GP.
If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early diagnosis means that you and your family have early access to support, information, and any appropriate treatment. An early diagnosis also gives people the opportunity to plan for their future.
Dementia is more than just memory loss
Most people associate dementia with memory loss, but the condition affects people in a wide variety of ways. That might include changes in behaviour, confusion and disorientation, delusions and hallucinations, difficulty communicating, problems judging speeds and distances and losing your sense of smell. Everyone’s experience of dementia is different.
Three basic stages of dementia
- Early – when symptoms are mild and, despite being quite forgetful, most people are still living with dementia relatively independently. They might also still be driving or working.
- Middle – this is the longest stage and can last many years. Forgetfulness and confusion gradually becomes more pronounced, your loved one might also become withdrawn, depressed or moody, and need an increasing amount of help with daily life.
- Late – most people at this point become increasingly frail, they may not talk or communicate very much and can appear to be in ‘a world of their own.’ They often need round-the-clock care.
Receiving a diagnosis of dementia for yourself or a loved one can be daunting and can create stress and fear. Living with dementia is challenging and can be difficult for the individual and those who care for them. Accessing support and services is an important step in planning for life after diagnosis. With the right support and services many people with dementia live active and fulfilling lives.
At present there is no cure for most forms of dementia. However, a range of support options are available which can help stabilize the condition and improve people’s quality of life.
Although stages of dementia are well documented and researched, it’s best not to dwell too much on the finer details, or think too much about ‘which stage’ you might be at. Everyone’s dementia journey is unique – some people will move slowly through some stages and quicker through others. It’s far more important to make the most of where you are now, and to focus on what you can do, rather than worry about what you may, or may not, be able to do later down the line.