Our Guide to Dementia
What is dementia?
Dementia is a broad umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders. The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia symptoms are caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type of dementia.
There are many different types of dementia and some people may present with a combination of dementia. Each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
What causes dementia?
Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. These diseases cause physical changes in the brain and as the dementia progresses, the structure and chemistry of the brain changes, which can cause brain cells to die.
As more brain cells die, the more the brain becomes damaged, which causes a deterioration of symptoms. In the later stages of dementia, the person will need more and more support to carry out everyday tasks. Each person who is diagnosed with dementia will experience a different range of symptoms.
What are the different types of dementia?
There are various types of dementia. Around 95% of people with a diagnosis will have one of the four main types which are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) or frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
- Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is when abnormal chemicals called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ build up inside the brain, when these build up in the brain it disrupts how the brain cells work and communicate with each other. In time, chemical connections between brain cells are lost and cells begin to die. Problems with day-to-day memory is often the first thing to be noticed, but other changes may include difficulties finding the right words, solving problems, making decisions.
- Vascular dementia
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. This is the result of problems with the blood supply to the brain. For brain cells to survive they need oxygen and without enough blood, they will die, which is what happens from a stroke, the oxygen supply to the brain in interrupted and cells die. The symptoms can occur suddenly, following one large stroke. Or they can develop over time, because of a series of small strokes.
People may have difficulties with problem-solving or planning, thinking quickly and concentrating. They may also have short periods when they get very confused.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
This form of dementia is caused by tiny clumps of protein that develop inside brain cells, called Lewy bodies. They disrupt the chemistry of the brain and lead to the death of brain cells. Early symptoms can include alertness that varies during the day, hallucinations, and difficulties judging distances. A person’s day-to-day memory is usually less affected. Dementia with Lewy bodies is closely associated with Parkinson’s disease and often has some of the same symptoms, including difficulty with movement.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Frontotemporal dementia is caused by damage to the frontal and temporal lobes, clumps of abnormal proteins form inside brain cells, causing them to die. These areas control behaviour, emotional responses and language skills. In frontotemporal dementia you will see changes in personality and behaviour.
- Mixed dementia
This is when a person has more than one type of dementia, and a mixture of the symptoms of those types. It is common for a person to have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia together.
Can dementia be prevented?
Prevention of dementia is not presently possible, however, there are known risk factors that contribute towards developing dementia, age being the higher risk factor for developing dementia. There are vascular risk factors that contribute to people developing vascular dementia such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Keeping these well managed will reduce the vascular risk factors associated with dementia.
Is dementia just memory loss?
People often think that dementia is just about memory loss, which can lead to misunderstandings about what is ‘just old age’ and what may be more serious.
The symptoms a person experiences depends on what part of the brain is affected by the dementia these are the most common symptoms of dementia
- Day-to-day memory loss, such as difficulty recalling events that happened recently.
- Problems concentrating, planning or organising, such as difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal or making a cup of tea).
- Language, such as difficulty keeping up with conversations or finding the right word.
- Visuospatial skills such as problems judging distances.
- Becoming confused about the day/date or where they are.
- People can experience mood changes.
Experiencing one or more of the above symptoms does not mean a person may have dementia but it may be worth consulting a doctor as it could be a sign of something else. Depression, chest and urinary tract infections, some vitamin and thyroid deficiencies and brain tumours can cause similar problems.
Does dementia get worse over time?
As dementia is progressive, it does mean that symptoms get worse over time. How quickly it progresses differs greatly from person to person, so it is difficult to predict any time frame for changes. Some people living with dementia may maintain their independence for a number of years after their diagnosis, whereas others may need support sooner.
As dementia progresses there may be the need for more support with daily activities such as cooking, personal care, washing and dressing and daily chores. Dementia can shorten life expectancy, but many people live long, happy lives after their diagnosis.
How we can help!
If you or someone you know is living with dementia, we can help. At The Orders of St John Care Trust, we specialise in dementia care. We offer an innovative but practical approach to caring for people living with dementia through person centred care. We provide support for family and friends through the transition of moving into long term dementia care from our Admiral Nurses who are specialist nurses in dementia care. We also can provide dementia respite care to give caregivers a temporary break from caregiving, while their loved one receives care in a safe and homely environment.
If you would like to find out more then get in touch. One of our friendly, expert team members will help to provide any information you need or answer any questions you may have.