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What is Dementia? 
 
The word ‘dementia’ is not the term for a specific disease itself, but is rather an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that over time can impair your ability to think, remember, or make decisions, it can also affect your problem solving skills, communication skills and your overall behaviour. 
 
Who gets Dementia? 
 
Well, according to information collected by the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently around 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia, mainly affecting people over the age 65. The chance of developing dementia also significantly increases as you age, 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 has dementia, with that statistic rising to 1 in 6, in people over the age of 80. 
 
And while stereotypically, dementia is associated with older people, it can affect young people too, often called young-onset dementia. Around 1 in 20 people with dementia in the UK are under 65, meaning there are more than 42,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 with the illness. 
 
It should also be noted that dementia is more common amongst women than it is amongst men. 
What causes Dementia? 
 
The most common misconception of dementia is that it is part of the natural ageing process, however this is false. Many adults live their entire lives without developing dementia, and while natural ageing might involve weakening of muscles and bones, the stiffening of arteries and vessels and some age-related memory problems, like forgetting the odd name or misplacing something. Normally, knowledge and experience, memories and language will always remain intact. 
 
So, what is the actual cause of dementia then, it is caused when a disease damages nerve cells in the brain. Nerve cells carry messages between different parts of the brain and to different parts of the body, as more nerve cells are damaged by the disease, the brain struggles to work properly. Dementia can be caused by many different diseases, with all of these diseases affecting the brain in different ways, resulting in different types of dementia. 
Types of Dementia 
 
In the UK, around 19 out of 20 people with dementia will have one of the 4 main types. It is important to acknowledge though that dementia affects everyone differently, but each type does have some common early symptoms, a person may also have mixed dementia, where they have symptoms of more than one type. 
 
Alzheimer’s Disease 
 
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, it is a physical disease that affects the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, meaning that the symptoms will develop slowly over the course of many years, eventually becoming more and more severe and affecting multiple brain functions. Typically, the first sign of the disease is usually minor memory problems, like forgetting a conversation that only occurred minutes or hours ago. As the condition continues to develop, memory problems become more severe, and more symptoms can develop, such as: confusion, disorientation, poor judgement and decision making, problems with communication, personality changes, hallucinations and low moods and anxiety. More than 520,000 people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, with this figure set to rise in the future. 
Vascular Dementia 
 
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, each person will experience it differently, with symptoms differing from person to person, and differing depending on the cause and areas of the brain that are affected. It is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which damages and eventually begins killing brain cells, it can happen as a result of narrowing and blockages of the small blood vessels inside the brain, a singular stroke or lots of mini strokes. Vascular dementia will typically get worse over time, and it can happen in sudden steps, with lengthy periods where nothing seems to change in the symptoms. Typical symptoms include slowness of thought, difficulty planning, concentration issues, changes in mood, personality or behaviour, being disorientated and confused, difficulty with walking and keeping balance and some crossover symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease. Many people with vascular dementia also have Alzheimer’s disease. 
Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) 
 
Around 5% of people diagnosed in the UK with dementia are recorded as having Dementia with Lewy bodies, although there is recent evidence found by scientists that suggests it could equate to more like 20% of cases. Most of the symptoms are shared by Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, meaning it is often wrongly diagnosed. DLB is caused by Lewy body disease, in this disease, tiny clumps of protein forms inside of brain cells, these abnormal deposits are called Lewy bodies, these deposits are often found in people with Parkinson’s disease, and build up in areas of the brain responsible for functions like thinking, visual perception and muscle movement. It is still not clear why these deposits form or exactly what damage they cause, but the symptoms include hallucinations, confusion, slow movement, tremors, trouble sleeping, fainting and some crossover symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease. It tends to develop slowly and get gradually worse over the course of a few years. 
 
Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) 
 
Frontotemporal dementia affects the front and sides of the brain, the frontal and temporal lobes. Dementia mostly affects people over the age of 65, but frontotemporal dementia is an exception, tending to start at a younger age, with most cases being diagnosed between the ages of 45-65. Frontotemporal dementia is caused by clumps of abnormal protein forming inside brain cells, they are thought to damage these cells, stopping them from working properly. They build up in the frontal and temporal lobes which are important for controlling language, behaviour and the ability to plan and organise. Like most types of dementia, FTD tends to develop slowly and get gradually worse over several years, the symptoms include personality and behavioural changes, language problems, problems with mental abilities and memory problems. You may have heard of this type of dementia being mentioned recently in the news, after famous actor Bruce Willis sadly announced he had been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia. 
 
What increases the risk of dementia? 
 
Age- The chance of developing dementia increases significantly with age, with 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 having dementia, with it rising to 1 in 6 for people over the age of 80. 
 
Family History- Research has indicated that there is a small risk that those with family members with dementia are more likely to develop dementia themselves, however most types of dementia are not passed down. There are few genes that will cause dementia if they are passed from a parent to a child, known as ‘familial’ genes, these genes are rare though. 
 
Poor Health- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, physical inactivity and smoking etc. can all increase the risk of dementia if not treated properly. 
 
Traumatic Brain Injury- Head injuries can increase the risk of dementia, especially if it is severe or happens frequently. 
 
How is Dementia Diagnosed? 
 
If you are concerned about regular problems with your memory or thinking, it’s so important to get yourself assessed by a healthcare professional, if these symptoms you are experiencing are the result of dementia, getting an early diagnosis can be so beneficial. It can provide an explanation for your problems and provides you with access to treatment, advice, and support, allowing you to plan for the future. 
 
A healthcare professional can perform tests on attention, memory, problem solving and other cognitive abilities to check whether there is any need for concern. Tests such as a physical examination, blood work and brain scans, such as a CT or MRI can help to determine an underlying cause. 
 
Treatments for Dementia 
 
While there is still no cure available for dementia, the right care and treatment can help a person with dementia live well for as long as they possibly can. A mixture of both drug and non-drug treatments can help a person with dementia to continue living unassisted for longer. 
 
Unfortunately, dementia is a progressive disease, meaning it may start slower, but depending on the person, symptoms will get a lot worse, this means that help from an in home carer may become necessary, so that they can sustain as normal of a routine as possible. 
How can we help? 
 
If you or one of your loved ones has been diagnosed with dementia and are struggling to cope alone, we can provide in home care services to help with their daily routine, whilst allowing them to maintain independence in their own home, please give us a call to discuss what we can offer further. 
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