The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, and often changes in mood, perception or behaviour.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. Some people may have a combination of types of dementia. Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
The four most common types of dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
Symptoms of dementia can include:
Memory problems – People with dementia might have problems retaining new information. They might get lost in previously familiar places and may struggle with names. Relatives might notice the person seems increasingly forgetful, misplacing things regularly. However, we all forget a name or face once in a while and this is nothing to worry about. If it happens on a frequent basis, it’s advisable to visit the GP who can check why this may be happening..
Cognitive ability, i.e. processing information – People with dementia may have difficulty with time and place, for example, getting up in the middle of the night to go to work, even through they’re retired. Also their concentration could be affected. There may be a difficulty when shopping with choosing the items and then paying for them. For some people with dementia the ability to reason and make decisions may also be affected. Some people with dementia get a sense of restlessness and prefer to keep moving than sit still; others may be reluctant to take part in activities they used to enjoy.
Communication – People with dementia may repeat themselves often or have difficulty finding the right words. Reading and writing might become challenging. They might experience changes in personality and behaviour, mood swings, anxiety and depression. People with dementia can lose interest in seeing others socially. Following and engaging in conversation can be difficult and tiring, and so a formerly outgoing person might become quieter and more introverted. Their self-confidence might be affected.
Dementia can be seen as a combination of one, or all of the above symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, which have been occurring for a while and are progressively getting worse, then please arrange a visit to the GP. There are many other reasons someone might be experiencing confusion or memory problems, so it is best to get them checked out and treated if necessary.
Rates of dementia in the UK
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age. The Alzheimer’s Society (2015) reports there are over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. Of these, approximately, 42,000 are people with young onset dementia, which affects people under the age of 65. As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia. It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million. Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
It is important that an accurate diagnosis is made as early as possible so that people can receive the appropriate advice, support and treatment, and can start planning for their future.
How to reduce the risk of developing dementia
Dementia affects both men and women, with women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and men more likely to develop vascular dementia. We can’t rule out the risk of developing dementia entirely, but we can develop a healthy lifestyle which reduces some of that risk. As a general rule, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Giving up smoking, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and reducing alcohol intake are all ways in which we can adopt a healthy lifestyle protecting the heart and brain. Keeping socially active, reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure also have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing.