Our Guide to Dementia
Dementia is the term used for many different conditions that affect the brain. The brain is made up on 8 lobes – each with its own unique function. Different types of dementia can affect different lobes, resulting in vastly differing symptoms. This is why each person with dementia can be affected in a different way.
There are currently over 850,000 people living with one of over 200 ‘sub-types’ of dementia. This number is set to rise to 1 million by 2021. This rise is put down to the fact that people are now more aware of dementia than ever before and are more likely to discuss the condition and see their GP to get a diagnosis. Also, people are now living longer with more people living into their 90s. At this age one in three people will have developed dementia.
When people think about dementia, they often think about the later stages. But, people can live with dementia for years in the early stages, without even realising. Symptoms can often be put down to forgetfulness or ‘old age’.
If someone is showing an increase in symptoms that could be linked to dementia, it is important to visit a GP as soon as possible. There are many conditions that may look like dementia as they adversely affect memory or brain function but can be treated if diagnosed early enough.
There are many stages involved in diagnosing dementia, including looking at medical and family history and checking for underlying mental health issues or cognitive problems. It may involve blood tests, an MRI, CT scan, x-rays, or referral to a specialist for further investigation and assessment.
If, after all this, a diagnosis of dementia is given, your GP may suggest further assessments or treatments, as well as making you aware of any specialist advice and support available to you. The important thing is that you are not alone.
Symptoms of Dementia
Whatever type of dementia is diagnosed, every person’s experience and symptoms will be different. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Poor concentration and organisational skills
- Slow, muddled or repetitive speech
- Reduced ability to perform everyday tasks
- False beliefs/delusions
- Failing to recognise family members
- Hearing problems
Types of Dementia
There are more than 200 ‘sub-types’ of dementia with the most well-known being Alzheimer’s Disease. Other types include Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Early-Onset Dementia.
Here are some of the most common types of dementia:
The most common type of dementia in the UK is Alzheimer’s Disease. More than 520,000 people are currently living with this form of dementia. It is named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it. In Alzheimer’s Disease, a build-up of abnormal proteins, called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’, cause the loss of connections between the billions of nerve cells that connect to each in the brain. Gradually, over time, the nerve cells die, and brain tissue is lost.
The second most common form of dementia is Vascular Dementia which affects about 150,000 people in the UK. Vascular Dementia is caused when diseased blood vessels reduce the blood supply to the brain. The deterioration of brain cells can cause problems with brain functions, including memory, thinking and reasoning which are known as cognition. When the effect on these cognitive functions are severe enough to have a significant impact on the person’s daily life, a diagnosis of Vascular Dementia is made.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) shares many symptoms with Alzheimer’s Disease. Lewy bodies are tiny protein deposits which are found in nerve cells within the brain. Lewy bodies cause both DLB and Parkinson’s Disease – two of several diseases caused by Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies affect the brain and nervous system and get progressively worse over time.
A wide range of conditions come under the name Frontotemporal Dementia, which is sometimes referred to as Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia. It is named after the frontal lobes of the brain which are damaged by this type of dementia. The frontal lobes are found behind the forehead and control behaviour, problem-solving, planning, emotions and speech.
Mixed dementia signifies that a person has more than one type of dementia. The most common type of mixed dementia is the presence of both Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. Mixed dementia is more common over the age of 75 and at least one in 10 people with dementia will be diagnosed as having more than one type.
Young Onset Dementia
There are estimated to be at least 42,000 people under the age of 65 diagnosed with dementia in the UK. This equates to more than 5% of those with dementia.
Can I Avoid Getting Dementia?
It is not possible to avoid getting dementia, but there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing it.
The most important thing is to keep your brain healthy. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, stay physically and mentally active, and make sure your cholesterol and blood pressure remain within healthy limits.
While there is currently no evidence to show that doing puzzles can improve ‘brain health’, learning a different language is deemed to be beneficial as it stimulates different parts of the brain and can help to enhance cognitive function.
Stimulating activities including walking, gardening, singing, art and reading all use different parts of the brain so are also thought to help brain function.
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