21st Aug 2017
Essential Dementia Overview
What is it?
Dementia is a loss of mental ability which is severe enough to interfere with the normal activities of daily living. It is a syndrome (not a disease) which includes a group of symptoms which may include impairments in memory, reasoning, planning as well as changes in mood and behaviour.
Who is effected?
- There are around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia*
- Most are over 65 years of age as the risk of developing dementia increases as you get older
- It is rare for those under 65 to get dementia, but it can happen
- Age, genes and lifestyle can affect your risk of developing the syndrome
What is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
A way to understand the term dementia is to relate it to the term headache, something which most of us have experienced at some time. A headache can be the result of many different causes such as spinal injury (whiplash), dehydration, head injury, stress etc. yet while they may all share similar symptoms called a ‘headache’ (pain within the head, dizziness, loss of focus, irritability etc.) they need to be understood and treated in different ways.
Just as a headache is a group of symptoms, dementia is also a group of symptoms and is an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under. People can have different types of dementia and some people can have more than one type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form/cause of dementia (50%-70%^) and can cause impaired thought, speech and confusion. It is a progressive disease meaning that it gets worse over time.
Other common causes of dementia are Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, dementia can also be caused by things like:
- Head trauma
- Prolonged Alcohol/drug abuse
- Vitamin deficiency
- Infections, such as encephalitis and HIV related infections
- Brain tumours
- Lack of Thyroid hormone
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
While Alzheimer’s disease and dementia share many similarities in terms of symptoms, a major difference is that there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Is there a cure?
Some forms of dementia such as those caused by drug interaction or vitamin deficiency may be reversible to some extent. Unfortunately, most forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease are incurable. However, research recently published in the journal Neurology~ has suggested that changes in smell could help detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Brain damage caused by dementia can occur up to 20 years before any symptoms show. Many scientists think the reason drugs are currently ineffective in helping to cure Alzheimer’s disease is because treatment does not start early enough. This new smell test may be a way of identifying those at risk and starting the treatment earlier.
Caring for people with Dementia
Supportive care for people with dementia can be difficult and complex. Progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease may result in the person suffering becoming totally dependent. The education of carers such as family members is crucial and 3fivetwo Training Academy is providing a free Dementia Carers Information event in Belfast on 31st August. For more information about this event please click here.