What is Dementia?

 17th May 2016

DementiaMany people may believe dementia to be a mental health disease itself; however, it is actually a categorisation of a number of different symptoms pertaining to damage within the brain.

Because of this, two people living ‘dementia’ can experience vastly different symptoms from one another and with varying severity.

It is progressive by nature which essentially means the symptoms experienced by those living with dementia will begin to worsen over time.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Depression
  • Loss of memory
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes
  • Difficult with concentration

Within this umbrella term, there are many different diseases which cause dementia symptoms including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal disease, all of which relate to cognitive impairment.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of these, with an estimated 850,000 people being affected in the UK alone.

Currently, there is no known cause of Alzheimer’s, however it is believed to be linked to a number of factors including old age and head injuries, as well as being a hereditary disease.

Another disease which falls under the categorisation of dementia is ‘vascular dementia’, which is caused by a reduction in the blood which flows to brain.

Because cells in the brain are starved of blood and the oxygen the deliver, they are subjected to damage and, over time, can be killed completely which causes the person’s cognitive abilities to diminish as a result.

Common causes of vascular dementia include strokes, mini-strokes and small vessel disease, where either a narrowing or blockage of small blood vessels occurs inside the brain itself.

Later Stages of Dementia

Dementia typically affects older people with 7% of people over 60 and 30% of people over the age of 85 being affected by dementia in some form.

Dementia itself can be fatal; however, it is also common for an individual living with dementia to die from other diseases such as pneumonia as a result of their immune system deteriorating.

Weight loss is common for people during the later stages of dementia so it is very important for carers to ensure they are provided with a diet of healthy food to provide their bodies with the calories and nutrients their bodies need.

Many people may also experience continence issues as dementia can affect the bladder during the later stages. This is not guaranteed however, and can often happen as a result of another separate illness, not necessarily just dementia.

Behaviour

If you know someone who is suffering from dementia, you may have noticed their behaviour has begun to change – this is a result of the damage which has occurred to the cells within the brain.

A person may become increasingly confused by everyday occurrences and find it hard to communicate with people who they are already close with such a friends and family.

In addition, people living with dementia can experience restlessness with their hands which can make it hard for them to let go of objects and many carers provide boxes of specific items or other equipment to help keep people with dementia stay physically stimulated.

Treatment

There is no current cure for dementia and no way to reverse the damage caused to the brain, however, there are a number of techniques, treatments and therapies available which both prolong the progression of symptoms and improve the quality of life for the person affected.

For example, with vascular dementia, doctors will often recommend lifestyle changes to try and treat the fundamental cause of the disease. This can include changes in diet, reducing the consumption of cigarettes and alcohol increasing exercise frequency.

As dementia affects abilities such as memory, concentration and language skills, occupational therapy can be used improve these functions and alleviate some of the symptoms.

Whilst Alzheimer’s and other diseases which fall under dementia can become terminal illnesses, there are many ways in which the person suffering can be helped and the range of therapies can prove to be successful in managing a person’s symptoms and improving their overall quality of life.

Encompass provides care services to improve the lives of people living with enduring mental health illnesses and learning disabilities including respite care, day care support and supported living.

Find out how our team can help you or a loved one by clicking here.

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