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CHAPTER 11


Dementia is not one single disease; it’s an umbrella term for the effects that a number of conditions have on our brains. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease which leads to dementia by causing brain cells to be destroyed by abnormal protein formations called plaques and tangles. Then there’s vascular dementia, which develops if the blood supply to our brain cells is reduced by atherosclerosis, which is when arteries become clogged up by fatty substances, or by full-on strokes. Lewy body disease is the next most common cause, which is when protein deposits are again responsible for the damage; and, finally, there’s frontotemporal dementia, which affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, for which the cause is still unknown. A handful of rarer causes like alcohol abuse and multiple sclerosis complete the list.


While each of these conditions has signature symptoms to identify them, they all lead to problems with three areas of normal brain functioning. This includes issues with thought processes (such as memory), emotions and mood (such as irritability or depression) and our ability to carry out the normal activities of daily living (such as washing, dressing and going to the shops alone). So, just having a few ‘senior moments’ is not in itself a sign of dementia. But if a number of these problems begin to occur together, alarm bells should start ringing. Examples would include memory loss plus difficulties with problem-solving, an inability to carry out familiar tasks, frequently becoming lost or disorientated about time, trouble finding the right words when speaking, always losing things, poor judgement about money, withdrawing socially and mood and personality changes.


If you, or a loved one, starts ticking a number of these boxes, then visit your doctor. GPs are well-placed to get the ball rolling with simple memory tests, as well as checks on various blood and urine samples to rule out treatable abnormalities that can mimic dementia. They may also arrange for scans of the brain to look for strokes, or shrinkage of brain tissue. If a diagnosis of dementia seems likely, a referral to a specialist memory clinic will probably follow. Here, more detailed tests can be performed and a diagnosis finalised.


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Dementia is not one single disease; it’s an umbrella term for the effects that a number of conditions have on our brains.


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