When you or a loved one is diagnosed with Dementia, it can be scary. You may feel confused about how this has happened, anxious about the future, or perhaps relieved to put a name to any symptoms you’ve experienced.
However you’re feeling, the best way to move forward is to understand what you’re up against. Although there’s no cure for Dementia, there are treatments available to alleviate symptoms and slow its progression, and many people continue living happily and independently for years after a diagnosis.
In this guide, we’ll introduce the different types of Dementia, as well as the symptoms you might experience, how it can be treated, and where to go for further support.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome linked to a decline in brain functioning. Particularly common in over 65s, it typically results in changes in memory, communication and behaviour. Common symptoms include:
- Memory loss (particularly short term memory such as names)
- Slower processing and thinking speed
- Changes in speech and language
- Alterations in mood
- Mobility difficulties
- Difficulties carrying out daily activities
As Dementia progresses gradually, these symptoms can appear at different times for different individuals, and it may take time for you or a loved one to recognise these as warning signs of Dementia.
What are the Different Types of Dementia?
Dementia is the umbrella term for many afflictions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects around 500,000 people in the UK. Alzheimer’s causes a build up of ‘plaques and tangles’ in the brain, which prevent messages being received as usual. Over time, this causes brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of Dementia, but it is by no means the only explanation. Other types of Dementia include:
- Vascular Dementia: caused by poor blood circulation (perhaps from a stroke) that limits oxygen to the brain, resulting in the death of brain cells.
- Mixed Dementia: when Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia occur together.
- Fronto-Temporal Dementia: where damage to this area of the brain results in changes to behaviour, personality and language.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies: protein deposits in the nerve cells of the brain cause fluctuations in alertness and cognition, hallucinations and slower movement.
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: excess fluid in the brain creates pressure, which may affect cognition, mobility and bladder control.
- Early Onset Dementia: when Dementia occurs in people aged 40 – 64.
Some diseases that affect cognition, such as Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease, may lead to Dementia over time. Similarly, individuals with Down’s Syndrome face a 40% risk of Dementia.
What are the Symptoms of Dementia?
As Dementia develops over time, it can be tricky to identify. Keeping an eye out for the early warning signs can help make sure your loved one receives the best treatment possible. Here are the key signs to look out for.
- Forgetting things (names, appointments, everyday routines)
- Struggling to stay on top of plans or to organise activities
- Disorientation in terms of place and time
- Difficulty performing routine tasks
- Language problems
- Difficulty with numbers
- Misplacing objects
- Repeating the same question or activity
- Pacing around the same space
- Uncharacteristically aggressive behaviour
- Developing suspicions of others
- Acting withdrawn from a group
- Low mood
- Poor coordination which may appear as clumsiness
- Slow movement and taking longer to carry out tasks
- Balance problems
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of appetite which may show in weight loss
It’s important to remember that sometimes these changes can be traced back to other causes. There may be another reason your loved one is feeling socially isolated or anxious, for example. Similarly, a loss of appetite could be due to other health conditions or medications.
That said, if you suspect your loved one is showing signs of Dementia, it’s important that they book an appointment with their GP, in order to help them get the right support as soon as possible.
How do Individuals Manage Dementia?
Dementia treatment varies according to the type of Dementia and the health needs of the individual. Before prescribing medication, your GP will likely encourage you to make lifestyle changes and consider other easier fixes.
It’s important to make healthy choices where diet and exercise are concerned, and to stay as positive and active as possible. One way to achieve this is to explore the different activities for people with Dementia and their carers happening in your local area.
Medication can be used to slow down the effects of Dementia for Alzheimer’s, Mixed Dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, you may be prescribed medication to treat a cause of Dementia, for example to bring down high blood pressure in the case of Vascular Dementia.
Medication can also be prescribed to relieve symptoms, such as low mood, aggression or hallucinations. This can make living with Dementia more manageable for individuals and their carers.
You may also be able to access Memory Clinic treatments. These could include group sessions, talking therapy, as well as therapies aimed at equipping carers to look after their loved ones.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Dementia?
There are some unavoidable risk factors associated with Dementia, such as age and genes. In other areas, though, the lifestyle choices you make can reduce the risk of Dementia, or slow its progression. These include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Taking regular exercise
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking moderately, if at all
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Research also suggests that those who suffer from loneliness or untreated depression are more at risk of Dementia. Taking steps to stay social, active and connected to the world around you are therefore ways to prevent it.
Where Can I Go for More Information?
If you’re concerned about your health or that of a loved one, speak to your GP. For more information about Dementia and the type of support you can receive, see these websites:
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