Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease or a series of strokes.

Dementia causes a progressive decline in people's ability to think, reason, communicate and remember. Their personality, behaviour and mood can also be affected. Everyone's experience of dementia is unique and the progression of the condition varies. There are many different types of dementia, although some are far more common than others, and some symptoms are more likely to occur with certain types of dementia.

Dementia affects over 800,000 people in the UK. It is not a disease in its own right and it is not a natural part of ageing.

What services are available?

There are Specialist Day Care centres which are specifically designed for people with dementia. These Day Care centres give people the opportunity to socialise with other people in their community who also have dementia and are centred around encouraging social interaction and entertainment. Specialist Day Care centres aim to provide support in a group setting; however there are also opportunities to access individual support.

There are also Specialist Care Homes which provide 24 hour assistance to people who are no longer able to live independently at home. These care homes are designed to provide an intense level of care which will meet the specific requirements of their residents.

Information on providers of dementia services is available.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

The most common symptoms of dementia are listed below:

  • Memory loss such a forgetting messages, remembering routes or names, and asking questions repetitively
  • Increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organisation
  • Difficulties with numbers and/or handling money in shops
  • Difficulties in finding the right words
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Loss of communication skills
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
  • Neglect of personal care and safety
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, agitation

Early symptoms of dementia are often mild and may get worse very gradually. This means that the person with dementia and those around them may not notice these signs or take them seriously for some time. Also, people with dementia sometimes do not recognise that they have any symptoms.

Living with dementia

Dementia can affect the whole life of the person who has it, as well as their family.

There are lots of things you can do that will help you to live as well as possible. To help you cope with memory problems you could try using a large diary, and perhaps keeping it next to a calendar clock. Also try keeping important items, such as keys or glasses, together in the same place.

Try to make your home safer. Remove things that are easy to trip over and install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms. You could also get automatic timers for plugs, lights and heating.

Try to stay active and social: it can help you retain skills and memory, as well as improve your self-esteem, sleep and wellbeing. Wherever possible, keep doing what you enjoy, even if you have to do it a little differently.

Many people are happier if they can remain independent and in their own homes as long as possible.

To achieve this, it may be necessary to make some adaptations to their homes or to use new equipment and/or assistive technology that has been designed to enable people with dementia to remain independent for longer or make it easier for others to give support.

What are the different types of dementia?

There are many different types of dementia although some are far more common than others.  They are often named according to the condition that has caused the dementia. Some of the more common types are outlined below.

Alzheimer's disease
This is the most common type of dementia. During the course of the disease, individual brain cells become damaged. The numbers gradually increase over time so the brain starts to function less well. It starts slowly, and the decline can happen over a number of years. It usually affects short-term memory first.

Vascular dementia
This is the second most common type of dementia. If the oxygen supply to the brain fails, brain cells may die. The symptoms of vascular dementia can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time, through a series of small strokes.

Lewy bodies Dementia
This form of dementia gets its name from tiny spherical structures that develop inside nerve cells. Their presence in the brain leads to the degeneration of brain tissue. This causes the brain to function less well in sending and receiving messages.

Fronto-temporal dementia
In fronto-temporal dementia, damage is usually focused in the front part and side parts of the brain. Personality and behaviour are initially more affected than memory.
 

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