Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. It is potentially the 21st century’s biggest killer, but with low awareness and understanding many vulnerable people and their families face it alone. The risk increases with age and although rates of diagnosis have improved it’s still under diagnosed. Dementia is a term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, with some people presenting with a combination of types, but each person and their dementia being unique.
Symptoms include short term memory loss and difficulty in retaining new information. Some sufferers can get lost even in familiar places, while others experience confusion with names. Families may notice a loved one is increasingly forgetful and loses items regularly, and although it’s not unusual for many of us to forget things once in a while, if frequent it’s best to seek medical advice. Cognitive ability may be affected, with some people experiencing confusion in unfamiliar environments, while others have difficulty orientating in time and place. Sustaining concentration and focusing on specific tasks may be noticeable in activities such as shopping, where there may be confusion over goods and payment. Some people with dementia become
restless preferring to keep moving rather than sitting still, while others despite being retired get up in the middle of the night to go to work. Other people with dementia experience problems communicating. Reading and writing become a challenge and with difficulty finding the right words many repeat themselves. Conversation can be difficult and tiring, some lose interest in engaging socially resulting in a formerly outgoing person becoming quieter and introverted. For others with dementia there may be changes in personality and behaviour, mood swings, anxiety and depression affecting self-confidence.
Dementia can be one or a combination of these symptoms, occurring for a period of time and progressively getting worse. The symptoms are easier to hide in familiar places and to make excuses for because they occur gradually over time. In 2015 the Alzheimer’s Society reported over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including approx. 40,000 with young onset dementia, affecting people under 65. It’s predicted the number of people living with dementia will rise to over 1 million by 2025.
Early and accurate diagnosis is important to ensure that appropriate advice, support and treatment is given and future plans made. Concerns about forgetfulness or confusion should be discussed with your GP.
Dementia helpline 0300 222 1122 can provide information and support.