Author: Adam Heppell
Date: Wednesday 19th May 2021
Dementia is a blanket term used to describe a number of conditions that have a progressive, degenerative, effect on the brain. One’s brain consists of many neurons which carry messages to the rest of the body and dementia damages these signals over time. Dementia remains one of the leading causes of death in the UK.
There is no current cure for dementia amid much research. The NHS note that there are treatments available that improve symptoms but as yet do not eradicate the condition.
According to Dementia UK, there are over 850,000 people living with the condition in the UK and this could increase to one million by 2025. On balance, the majority of cases occur in those over 65. Indeed, 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and the condition affects 1 in 6 people over 80.
The prospect of any form of dementia is frightening, whether you suspect it yourself or if you think a friend or relative may have symptoms. Those affected might first experience memory loss and may find retaining new information problematic. Somebody might get lost in previously familiar places and may struggle with names. Somebody might struggle to process information as quickly as before. Communication may be difficult in that somebody with dementia might increasingly lose their thread of thought or stop mid-sentence. Judgment might also be impacted. Those affected might also have periods of frustration.
As the condition develops one may have reduced cognitive function, difficulty moving or may find most tasks difficult.
Even if someone has some of these symptoms they may not have dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is a physical condition caused by changes in the structure of the brain. This is due to a build-up of proteins in the brain cells. Signs of Alzheimer’s tend to develop gradually over time and can affect concentration, memory, communication, reading and writing, numeracy, planning, and impact sense of direction.
According to the NHS, symptoms specific to Alzheimer’s can include: regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces or asking repeated questions. Someone could also experience difficulties with organisation and planning. Confusion could occur in unfamiliar environments, or an individual might become more withdrawn or anxious.
Vascular dementia is also a common form of dementia. It is caused by problems in the blood supply to the brain cells, commonly due to strokes that can be minor or severe as Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs), which cause areas of cell damage in the brain.
TIAs are often sudden. The NHS lists symptoms specific to vascular dementia including stroke-like symptoms including muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side.
The decline of dementia can be gradual. Somebody affected may indeed be able to enjoy a good quality of life for a while before the condition worsens. If you are supporting somebody with the condition, providing emotional and practical support in assisting with everyday tasks can really help. Memory aids used around the home can help the person remember information. For example, you could put labels and signs on cupboards, drawers, and doors.
Talk to others who are in a similar situation, join support groups. Keep the person involved in activities.
Find out more about dementia with the Learn with Unite CPD Dementia Awareness course. Find out more here.
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