What Is Dementia?
Do you need some advice on Dementia?
From a medical point of view, dementia is the umbrella term for ‘a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language’, according to Alzheimer’s Society.
However, this rather clinical overview masks the condition’s devastating effect on people’s lives. Ask a person with dementia – or their family and friends – ‘What is dementia?’ and the response may be ‘cruel’, ‘indiscriminate’, ‘unfair’, ‘distressing’, ‘frustrating’ or ‘lonely’.
It affects an extraordinary number of people, predominantly older people. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to more than one million by 2025. One person every three minutes develops dementia, and one person in six over the age of 80 has the condition. Alzheimer's, a brain disease that leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62 per cent of those diagnosed. Other types include vascular dementia (where the person typically suffers lots of mini-strokes and blood supply to the brain is compromised) and mixed dementia (which has the characteristics of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia).
The condition is progressive, so a diagnosis can be difficult to accept, knowing that symptoms will worsen over time. The condition’s progression can also be extremely challenging for loved ones, who may feel they are ‘losing’ the person they once knew so well.
While a diagnosis will never be good news, there is support for people with dementia and their carers. With the right approach and support, there are ways to cope with this difficult condition.
For people with dementia, memory strategies, checklists and local support groups may, for some, help to make life a bit less confusing. For example, Alzheimer’s Society suggests having a newspaper delivered daily so you always know the date, or keeping a journal to look back on for reference and as a something to talk about.
For family and carers, the emotional and practical burden can be considerable. Carers, especially the offspring of people with dementia, are often dealing with competing priorities such as work and their own children, and balancing everything can be a strain. Anger, frustration and guilt are common and understandable emotions, and the Alzheimer’s Society offers tips for dealing with these emotions and looking after yourself. In addition, Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurses are uniquely qualified to offer practical and emotional support to families living with dementia.
At the moment, most types of dementia can’t be cured, but research is ongoing and there are drugs that may halt its progress in some cases. Having an active and healthy lifestyle can also help prevent symptoms worsening as quickly. NHS Choices has more on this.