Dementia is not one specific disease, but more a term used to describe a group of symptoms associated with a decline in brain functioning. It is a common problem with one in 14 people over 65 that will develop dementia and over 850,000 people in the UK currently living with dementia.
There are three different types of dementia but all of them result in similar effects. Dementia is a difficult diagnosis for both the patient and the family members. It typically can be very difficult to watch the person you love turn into someone else and or forget about those that they love.
Although there is no current cure for Dementia there are medications and tricks to try and slow the progression of it. It is worthwhile to know what the signs and symptoms of dementia are and what to look out for to be able to get diagnosed early.
Types of Dementia
Alzheimer’s dementia is the most widely known type of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. In Alzheimer’s, there are high levels of specific proteins in the brain that cause the brain cells to have difficulty communicating with each other. Typically the first area to be damaged by this is the memory centre of the brain, which is why memory impairment is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s.
Vascular dementia occurs after having one or multiple strokes. This results in a variety of symptoms that you could experience depending on where the stroke occurs and what area of the brain gets damaged.
Lewy Body dementia is slightly different as it shares the mental symptoms with the other types of dementia, but also has motor symptoms like that of Parkinson’s disease. Slow movement and gait can be symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB).
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Signs and symptoms that you can watch out for in yourself for and loved ones are memory impairment such as forgetting names of loved ones, losing your keys, too more severe such as forgetting how to get home from the shopping center that you visit regularly, or forgetting that you left the stove on and burning things.
It is not only memory impairment, but you may also have issues with communication, focusing your attention, visual perception, or your reasoning and judgement. Some of the more frustrating symptoms for people close to those with dementia is the lack of interest, empathy and possible hallucinations that they may experience.
What to do?
If you have concerns or about yourself or about your loved one it is worthwhile taking them to their family physician. The family physician can perform lab work, cognitive testing and order any imaging tests necessary. There are some reversible causes such as vitamin deficiency or thyroid issues which can cause similar symptoms to dementia.
Cognitive testing serves as a baseline to be repeated later down the road to see if there have been changes and how quickly things are changing. Patients can be referred to a Neurologist who studies the brain and is able to prescribe medication and make a formal diagnosis. You may also be seen by an occupational therapist who can test your cognitive ability as well as your physical ability of daily functions.
Once diagnosed with dementia you will likely need to have follow-up visits with your neurologist, family physician, occupational therapist and other health professionals. They will monitor your symptoms and make adjustments to treatment as necessary. Many dementias are progressive, and will gradually get worse with time.
Risk factors such as age and genetics cannot be altered, but to try and limit the progression of dementia and prevent it, it is recommended that you keep active and exercise regularly to help with blood flow to the brain. Taking multivitamins to ensure that your nutrients are optimized as well as having a balanced diet can all help to decrease your risk due to its cardioprotective measures on blood vessels.
Dementia affects almost everyone close to someone with dementia. It is a heavy burden to carry caring for someone with dementia, especially as the disease progresses. There are support groups available in the community as well as resources available for both the caregiver and the patient.