A condition that affects hundreds and thousands of people each year, yet dementia, is still a disease that lacks sufficient understanding and support. It is often regarded as a condition for the elderly, but actually it is a disease that affects everyone. With numbers set to surge into the millions in a few short years, we dedicate this month’s let’s talk health feature to discussing about this neurodegenerative condition.

Dementia and the facts:

Dementia describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function; it is an umbrella term to describe symptoms such as impaired memory and thinking. These conditions are usually progressive and eventually severe.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia which represents a significant 62% of dementia cases. The distinction between dementia and Alzheimer’s is the classification of symptoms. As highlighted, dementia is an umbrella term that describes symptoms whereas those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s specifically experience impaired thought, speech and confusion.

  • There are 850,000 people in the UK with dementia
  • Someone will be diagnosed with dementia every 3 minutes
  • 70% of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems
  • There are 40,000 people under 65 with dementia in the UK.

The known causes of dementia:

Of the types of dementia known, there are different and specific causes. For example Alzheimer’s is caused by abnormal protein surrounding brain cells whilst another damages their internal structure. In Vascular dementia this is caused by a reduction in oxygen supply to the brain. There are many forms of dementia, some common and uncommon but the differences are significant in the earlier stages; at later stages the symptoms become similar with many patients having or developing mixed forms.

Are you at risk?

As we assume, dementia mainly affects those over the age of 65, in fact one in 14 in this age group have dementia. However, it isn’t limited to this age group at all. As highlighted above, 42,000 people in the UK are under 65; that’s 5% of all diagnoses.

Currently scientists are working to determine how dementia may be a family history factor, certain types of dementia can be inherited as a single gene which directly causes the disease. Those with such genes will develop and or be diagnosed before the age of 65.  But everyone will inherit a combination of genes that will increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease. Alzheimer’s society have produced an interesting piece on the role genetics play.

Lifestyle also plays a factor in to the development of dementia. The following factors can help reduce your risk:

  • Exercise
  • Mental stimulation
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Socialising

Smoking, drinking and other health conditions can all increase your risk. Although you may not be able to change pre-existing health conditions, you should always follow the advice of your doctor to help keep your chances down.

Symptoms- are you concerned for yourself or a family member?

Many of the common symptoms for dementia highlighted below are also part and parcel of getting older so hopefully isn’t anything to be too worried with.

  • Memory loss
  • Aggression
  • Behavioural changes
  • Speech and language
  • Perception and hallucinations
  • Sight and hearing loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Need to walk about
  • Apathy, anxiety and depression

However, it is worth being aware of the symptoms though and any concerns discussing these through with your GP.  Getting a diagnosis can help rule out other conditions, helps to explain your symptoms and they can provide advice on managing your symptoms and signpost you to get any support that you or your family needs.

Alzheimer’s have also pieced together a handy guide on the common symptoms and provide practical ways in which to help manage such changes.

Thank you!

We’d like to thank the Alzheimer’s Society to contributing to this piece and sharing their research with us. However, there is still so much they need and can do with some help and support. To help them to eliminate dementia you can:

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