What is dementia?
What is dementia? Dementia is the term for symptoms that include memory loss and complications concerning thinking, problem solving or language. Initially these symptoms can be small, but eventually they become bad enough to have a detrimental impact on day-to-day life.
Dementia can be caused by brain damage brought about by diseases including Alzheimer’s disease or numerous strokes and symptoms can vary depending on the part of the brain that is damaged.
Who is affected by dementia?
Around 850,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with dementia in 2015 of which people over the age of 65 were most affected. The chance of developing dementia increases with age and in fact 1 in 14 people over 65 have it. However younger people can develop dementia too and more than 40,000 under 65 develop dementia every year.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia effects people differently especially within the early stages. However, other factors such as support and domestic environment also play an important role in symptom severity. Common symptoms affect cognitive functions such as day-to-day memory, concentrating, organisation, language skills, orientation and special awareness.
Mood changes are a common symptom of dementia too and sufferers may feel frustration, irritability, anxiety and can become easily upset. Hallucination and delusions can also become evident.
Unfortunately the symptoms of dementia are progressive and become worse as time goes by. It’s common of dementia sufferers to ask repetitive questions and become agitated and restless. In the later stages of dementia physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss begin to manifest.
What Causes dementia?
Here are a few diseases that can commonly cause dementia.
- Alzheimer disease is the biggest cause of dementia and occurs when abnormal proteins envelop brain cells damaging their internal structure. This causes some cell death and inhibition of electro-chemical signalling between neurons.
- Vascular dementia is caused by brain cell damage or death due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can occur in instances of stroke, either on a large scale or numerous smaller strokes.
- Mixed dementia is a combination of two or more types of dementia, usually Alzheimer disease and vascular dementia, where symptoms of both occur.
- Lewy bodies are small structure that form within the brain and cause chemical disruption and cell death. There is a link between Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies and as a result some symptoms, such as movement difficulties are shared.
- Frontotemporal dementia effects the front and side parts of the brain, as in the case of Pick’s disease. Brain cell death is caused by abnormal proteins forming within the cells themselves causing symptoms such as speech difficulties.
What are the stages of dementia?
As dementia is not a disease itself but rather symptoms caused by various diseases, symptoms can vary in terms of how they manifest and severity. However, these 5 stages outline can help to evaluate how far the symptoms have progressed.
- Stage 1 – No Impairment. At this stage dementia symptoms are not impairing a persons ability to function in day-to-day life. For example, they have no noteworthy memory loss and regular judgement.
- Stage 2 – Questionable Impairment. Suffers start to get minor impairment including slight memory loss and issues solving problems. They are still able to manage domestic life.
- Stage 3 – Mild Impairment. Short-term memory is affected and has a noticeable effect on day-to-day life. Loss of orientation and difficulties functioning independently also start to appear.
- Stage 4 – Moderate Impairment. At this stage a sufferer will need help taking care in certain aspects of their life such as hygiene and will need to be accompanied when going out.
- Stage 5 – Severe Impairment. This is the most severe stage where sufferers cannot function on their own. Symptoms include significant memory loss and lack of spatial and temporal orientation
How is dementia treated?
Most dementia cannot be cured however there is a lot that can be done to help dementia sufferers. Drugs including donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine are particularly useful for helping with dementia with Lewy bodies deal with hallucinations and delusions. Sufferers of vascular dementia are given drugs to help deal with the cause of their symptoms including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems which in turn can help slow the progression of dementia.
Non-medication treatments are also available for dementia sufferers and include support, therapies and activities to help ease the symptoms. After diagnosis support is given to the sufferer and their carer allowing them to discuss things such as any questions they may have and what the future holds. Counselling and therapies help dementia sufferers come to terms with their illness and cognitive behavioural therapy deals with aspects of depression or anxiety.
Staying active is key for people with dementia and activities aimed at keeping the mind active are effective. It is encouraged that sufferers reminisce about their memories not only for cognitive stimulation but to enhance their mood in general.
With 163,000 new cases of dementia occurring in England and Wales each year and health and social care resources and budgets stretched to breaking point, it has never been more important to receive high quality dementia care training.
This is why we, at Caring for Care, offer a dementia awareness training course that aims to help anyone working or living with someone with dementia by providing you with the knowledge of understanding dementia and how to care for those with it.
We’ll discusses many of the topics touched upon here in this blog such as common types of dementia and causes and symptoms plus many other vital subjects including the role of friends and relatives and non-verbal communication. By the end of the 3 hour course you’ll be more confident in supporting a dementia sufferer in a person centred way and improving their quality of life.