Affecting more than an estimated 850,000 people in the UK alone, dementia is a potentially devastating condition that particularly affects a large portion of the elderly population. In fact, dementia is not a disease in itself, but a word given to neurological damage which is caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (50%- 70% of cases) or Vascular Dementia, that leads to symptoms like memory loss and confusion.
Its affect on the brain is profound and irreversible, meaning that its symptoms only worsen over time. But what does it actually do to the brain and what are some of its symptoms?
Think of an Orange
It is a common misconception that dementia is just a natural part of ageing, but that is simply not true. As the Alzheimer’s Research campaign video shows, dementia is caused by physical damage on the brain. The effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s cause the brain to be stripped away, like an orange losing its peel: Alzheimer’s shrinks the brain at 400% the normal rate of ageing. As a result, a brain affected with the disease can weigh around 140g less than a healthy brain, which is around the same weight as an orange.
Since dementia is proven to be caused by physical damage to the brain, it is vital that research centres such as Alzheimer’s Research UK continue to work towards a cure for these diseases, which may one day lead to a world unaffected by dementia.
But it’s not just caused by Alzheimer’s
There are other conditions that can lead to dementia such as:
- Vascular dementia: caused by a series of small strokes
- Frontotemporal dementia: affecting the frontal lobes impacting upon behaviour
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies: causing poor motor control and in some cases, hallucinations
- Young Onset dementia: while destructive, the reasons behind it are unclear
So what are the symptoms?
The symptoms differ slightly between the dementia causing diseases:
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include:
- Memory loss- particularly for recent events, as well as repeating questions and forgetting names
- Increased difficulty with tasks that require planning
- Becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
- Difficulty finding desired words
- Difficulty with numbers and handling money
- Changes in personality and mood
Vascular dementia symptoms include:
- A sudden onset of symptoms
- Slowness of thought
- Difficulty planning
- Trouble with language
- Problems with attention and concentration
- Mood or behavioural changes
- Stroke-like symptoms, such as muscle weakness or paralysis down one side of the body
Dementia with Lewy Bodies symptoms include:
- Problems with memory and judgement
- Slowed movement, stiff limbs and tremors
- Visual hallucinations
- Sleep disturbance
- Fainting, unsteadiness and falling
- Extreme changes in state from alertness to drowsiness
Frontotemporal dementia symptoms include:
- Strange behaviour and mood changes
- Language problems, which may even lead to muteness
- An increasing inability to think independently
- Problems with movement such as rigidity
In later stages of dementia, memory loss and problems with communication become severe, as well as issues with mobility, incontinence, eating and a lack of appetite.
How to get help
If you recognise some of those symptoms, whether in yourself or a loved one, it is vital you make an appointment with a GP. The GP can carry out some simple tests to determine whether dementia might be the reason behind some of the symptoms and refer you or your loved one to a specialist.
Living with Dementia
Being diagnosed with dementia doesn’t mean it’s the end, and there are many services and events offered to ensure you continue to live a full and happy life. Charities such as Dementia UK and Alzheimer’s Society offer services such as a helpline for support as well as NHS guides which offer advice on how to live with dementia, as well as including tips to help you get the better of some of the symptoms. For carers, there’s the Alzheimer’s society online forum as well as a carer’s direct number, plus many different local activities such as ‘singing for the brain’ which can prove a helpful way of dealing with the condition for both sufferer and carer.
Our services in your community page provides more information about dementia events near you.