See our new guide to dementia

Dementia is a term that is used to describe a set of symptoms which are caused by various diseases. Most commonly, dementia refers to the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities that get worse over time. These diseases are referred to as “cognitive” because they impact thinking.

Dementia is not just about memory loss; it is about losing the ability to think clearly, manage stress in your life, retain new information, and more.

Read this article for more information about dementia and its different forms, diagnostic tests for detecting it early on, available treatments and prevention methods against it.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss of cognitive ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. That means that even if you’ve had Alzheimer’s for years and forget where you put your keys, that’s not dementia. Dementia can affect memory, the ability to reason and solve problems, the ability to understand language, the ability to focus and pay attention, the ability to create new memories, the ability to recognise people and places, and the ability to understand time and money. Dementia is caused by disorders that affect the brain and its ability to function properly. It can be a sign of an illness or injury, as well as a complication of an existing condition.

Normal ageing vs. dementia

As people age, they are more likely to experience memory problems and other cognitive changes that are often mistaken for the onset of dementia. Some of the most common conditions that are mistaken for dementia are depression, anxiety, vitamin B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, vitamin B1 deficiency, and hyperthyroidism. Age-related cognitive changes are often referred to as “age-associated cognitive decline” or “normal ageing,” and are not as severe as dementia.

Types of dementia

Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive function severe enough to interfere with daily life. There are many different types of dementia, each caused by different diseases and health conditions. 

In general, two types of dementia are recognised: 

  • Progressive dementias worsen over time and typically have no cure
  • Non degenerative dementias are caused by a specific injury or illness. They may get better if the underlying problem is treated

Each type of dementia has its own set of symptoms, causes, and prognosis.

They can be broken down into three major categories:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy Body Disease
  • Other dementias

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow in the brain, either due to a blockage in the arteries leading to the brain or a decrease in blood flow due to poor heart health. The decrease in blood flow may cause parts of the brain to die, leading to a loss of cognitive abilities such as memory, language, attention span, and the ability to reason.

People with vascular dementia may also experience personality changes, mood swings, and altered sleep patterns. Vascular dementia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in people over the age of 60.

Some risk factors for vascular dementia include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a history of heart disease. There are no specific symptoms for vascular dementia, but it can be detected through MRI or CT scans.

Treatment for vascular dementia often focuses on managing risk factors and addressing underlying heart problems.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) damages the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for decision-making and regulating emotions. This type of dementia begins with personality changes and behavioural issues, followed by cognitive decline. Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the degeneration of neurons in the brain, typically due to abnormal protein build-up.

There are two types of frontotemporal dementia:

  • Primary Progressive Aphasia
  • Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia

Primary Progressive Aphasia symptoms include language difficulties and problems with visual perception, whereas Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia symptoms include difficulty communicating and forming coherent thoughts.

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is estimated that around 50% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. The most common misconception about Alzheimer’s is that it only affects older adults. In reality, it can occur in people of all ages, and the risk increases with age. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behaviour. It is caused by abnormal protein build-up and a decrease in the ability to create new memories. Due to this fact, people with Alzheimer’s often have trouble remembering things that happened recently, as well as important life events.

Lewy Body Disease & dementia

Lewy Body Disease (LBD) is a type of dementia caused by protein build-up in the brain. It is one of the most common forms of dementia that is not related to Alzheimer’s. The most common symptoms are visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and cognitive decline. LBD is caused by abnormal protein build-up in neurons, which interferes with their ability to function properly. This can cause a variety of symptoms that affect the cognitive, behavioural, and emotional health of the person. Due to this, LBD can be difficult to diagnose and the progression is different for everyone.

Awareness and early detection of dementia

Early detection and diagnosis of dementia can help minimise its impact on the future of the patient. There are some simple tests that can detect dementia in its early stages.

Some of these include:

  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Vision and hearing tests
  • Blood tests
  • MRI scanning
  • SPECT scanning

Memory tests for dementia

There are several different kinds of memory tests that can help determine if a person has dementia or not. These include:

  • Mini-Mental Status Examination
  • Cognitive screening tests
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Functional tests
  • Visual Spatial Tests

Treatment for dementia

There are no specific treatments for dementia, but there are remedies  that can help with the symptoms that come with the disease. 

These include: 

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication 
  • Alternative therapies
  • Nursing Care
  • Respite care

Prevention of dementia

There is no definite way to prevent dementia, but there are certain lifestyle choices that can lower your risk of getting it.

These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Healthy brain exercises
  • Regular check-ups

Support for people with dementia and their families and friends

 

There are several excellent organisations that can support people with dementia and their families.

Dementia UK is a national charity that provides advice and support about dementia. 

Alzheimer’s Society has a dementia directory to find support near you. And their Dementia Friends initiative is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. From telling friends about the Dementia Friends programme to visiting someone you know living with dementia, every action counts.

Age UK offers dementia support including one-to-one, group sessions, family and carer support and dementia information guides.

Maclntyre have support on dementia on their website and have a Dementia Special Interest Group.

See the NHS guide on dementia.

Our charity can help you find local support for people with dementia and their carers

There is excellent support for carers in the area from Carers Central in Luton, Carers MK and Carers in Bedfordshire.

The Disability Resource Centre is a small charity that supports disabled people living in Milton Keynes, Luton, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire.

Our team can help you find local support for people with dementia. Please contact us to discuss how we can help you, which may include arranging a free appointment with our Benefits Advisor. They are an expert in helping people with claiming benefits for disabled people and people with long term health conditions. 

Come to our mobility equipment shop in Dunstable

We can provide advice and also stock a range of mobility aids, if you need help getting around, including a variety of:

  • Rollators
  • Wheelchairs
  • Walking frames
  • Walking sticks

Visit us at our mobility equipment shop at the Mayfield Centre, 4 Mayfield Road, Dunstable, LU5  4AP.

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