Dementia Action Week: Defining the Illness and Misconceptions

850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, but many people don’t understand what it is, how to spot the early signs, and how to cope with it.

This article covers a lot of important questions about dementia and dispels some myths. It aims to leave you feeling more confident in your ability to deal with this illness and care for yourself and your loved ones.

Defining Dementia

Dementia broadly refers to a range of symptoms and conditions that affect the brain and memory. In fact, there are over 100 different conditions that can lead to cognitive decline.

The most common is Alzheimer’s, which is caused by abnormal changes in the brain that are brought on by neuronal damage. When neurons in the brain are damaged, chemical signals cannot be sent effectively. This can cause the loss of cognitive abilities including memory, which is dementia’s most common symptom.

Dementia most commonly affects those over 65 years old, but younger people can also be stricken. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for maintaining brain function and slowing the progression of the illness.

Symptoms of Dementia

When we think of dementia, we often think that it affects a person's memory; however, there are different types of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer's Disease, which presents problems with short-term memory.

Other types of dementia can affect parts of the brain beyond what we typically associate with memory, such as a loss of motor control or problems with problem-solving.

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of cognitive functioning
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Difficulty maintaining a conversation
  • Trouble making decisions

The Toll on Everyday Life

Dementia can affect every aspect of a person's life and remove much of his or her independence. Many people with dementia rely on assistance (family or professional) for help with daily tasks like getting dressed, eating meals, or doing shopping. As a result, they may lose confidence in their ability to function independently. Approximately 50% exhibit depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Treatments for Dementia

Drugs

Drugs such as Donepezil, Rivastigmine, and Galantamine are cholinesterase inhibitors that work by boosting the levels of chemical messengers involved with memory. They are most commonly used to treat Alzheimer's but can be used for other types of dementia as well.

Therapies

Occupational therapy is the most common therapy used in cases of dementia. This involves working with patients to understand their condition and how it may progress. Some therapies are available on the NHS.

Environment

In cases of dementia, it may be difficult for someone to function somewhere that’s cluttered or noisy so to manage symptoms, it’s advisable to maintain or change their home environment.

Misconceptions of Dementia

Dementia - Alzheimer’s Confusion

Dementia must be distinguished from Alzheimer’s disease, which is just one of many types of dementia.

Dementia vs. Aging

Dementia is not an inevitable result of ageing; however, it is most likely to be found in people aged 65 and older.

Memory Loss as a Symptom

A loss of memory is one of the most common symptoms, but it’s not always a sign of dementia.

Is Dementia Curable?

There are treatments for dementia, but the disease is not curable.

In Summary

Dementia is a progressive neurological illness that can impair cognitive function and interfere with daily living, including simple tasks like paying bills and shopping. It’s often confused with Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

Symptoms can include memory loss, but memory loss alone does not indicate the presence of dementia. Treatment options are limited to managing symptoms, but there are no curative options.

If you or a loved one seem to be experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is important that you consult your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment are the most effective way to manage the symptoms of dementia and maintain independence for as long as possible.

Are you looking for care for a loved one? Our friendly Care Adviser team can help!

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