Dementia occurs as a result of a disease process. It is a term used to describe different brain disorders that have in common the loss of brain function, which is usually progressive and eventually fatal. Dementia affects memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion.
Dementia knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries. Although it is more common among older people, younger people can also be affected, but it is rare, it can affect people in their 40’s and 50’s. Over the age of 65, dementia affects 1 in 20 people. For people over the age of 80 the number rises to 1 in 6.
Memory loss is a common early symptom of dementia. However it only becomes an important symptom of dementia when other symptoms also occur such as changes in personality and behaviour, loss of sense of time and space, loss of ability to perform the everyday tasks of daily living and problems with language. Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently – no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way.
The person’s ability to remember, understand, communicate and reason gradually declines. The pace of dementia’s progression depends on the individual but can take many years
Dementia is not a part of normal ageing, but a disease in the brain and can occur in people aged under 65. People get a bit more forgetful as they age; but that does not mean that they all have dementia. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia. Nor can a cure be expected in the foreseeable future. Researchers are still at the stage of developing more drugs that would slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression, or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of dementia would eventually make a cure possible.
Dementia is a progressive condition. This means that the structure and chemistry of the brain become increasingly damaged over time. The person’s ability to remember, understand, communicate and reason gradually declines. The pace of dementia’s progression depends on the individual but can take many years. Each person living with dementia is unique and experiences the disease in their own way. The way people experience dementia depends on many factors, including physical make-up, emotional resilience and the support available to them. Viewing dementia as a series of stages can be a useful way to understand the illness, but it is important to realise that this only provides a rough guide to the progress of the condition and not all people will display all of these symptoms. Some of these symptoms may appear in any of the stages, for example a behaviour listed in the late stage may occur in the middle stage. Also, care partners should be aware that in all stages, short, more lucid periods can occur.
Dementia is a term used to describe any condition where a variety of different brain functions such as memory, thinking, language, planning and personality deteriorate over time. There are a large number of different types but the majority of people have Alzheimer’s disease and/or vascular dementia.
Dementia is a global problem. Worldwide around 44 million people are living with dementia in low and middle-income countries. This is expected to rise to 71% by 2050. These high numbers are due to the rapid ageing of populations in these countries.
If your parent developed dementia during old age then your chance of developing dementia in old age is slightly greater than a person with no dementia history in the family
Although dementia cannot be prevented or cured there is a great deal that can be done to help reduce the risk of developing the disease. There is evidence that a healthy lifestyle may delay the onset of dementia. This means eating healthy, not smoking and exercising regularly, but also remaining socially active and learning new things. The symptoms of memory loss also can sometimes be helped by treatment with anti-dementia drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors. Better understanding and management can help associated symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and agitation.
The stigma that surrounds dementia is a result of a lack of understanding and knowledge. It is important that people understand that a person with dementia continues to be a person of worth and dignity, and deserving the same respect as any other human being. Alzheimer associations around the world are working hard to fight the stigma associated with dementia by raising awareness.
If your parent developed dementia during old age then your chance of developing dementia in old age is slightly greater than a person with no dementia history in the family. There are a few very rare cases where Alzheimer’s disease does run in families. In these cases there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of ‘early onset’ Alzheimer’s disease, which affects those under the age of 60. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer’s disease is one in two.
Dementia is a fatal disease. Many patients die from the complications of swallowing disorders and reduced resistance to other chronic diseases.
At the moment there is no cure for dementia, although many of the problems associated with dementia such as restlessness and depression can be treated. There are some drugs available for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs are not a cure, but may temporarily slow down the progression of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in some people.
Caring for someone living with dementia can be very difficult at times. However, there are ways to deal with the situation. It is important to keep things as normal as possible. It is important that a person living with dementia remains independent as long as possible. Avoid talking about the person’s condition in their presence without involving them in the conversation.
Source of information: Alzheimer’s Disease International, London