What You Need To Know About Dementia

Dementia

Dementia affects nearly 50 million people globally where a new case occurs somewhere in the world every 3 seconds. Dementia is not only associated with the elderly as it can also affect people under the age of 65 known as young onset dementia.

While there is no cure available yet for most types of dementia, several treatment options, support groups and memory cafes among others. Everyone in healthcare should provide the public with greater awareness and understanding of dementia to challenge the myths and misconceptions.

Where Did It All Begin?

A German doctor, Alois Alzheimer, first identified dementia in 1906 and published many papers on brain diseases and conditions. It was a lecture in 1906 that resulted in his rise to fame as he identified an ‘unusual disease of the cerebral cortex’.

This case referred to a woman, Auguste D., who had this condition that caused memory loss, disorientation, hallucinations and ultimately her death. She was only 55 years old at the time of her death. Even today, those who diagnose Alzheimer’s disease still uses the same investigative methods from 1906.

What Exactly Is Dementia?

Dementia is a collective term that describes several progressive neurological disorders – conditions associated with the brain. It affects memory, thinking, behaviour patterns and people’s emotions. Our brains are made up of millions of nerve cells (neurones), each communicating important messages to the other. Dementia damages these nerve cells which means they can no longer effectively send messages. This, of course, prevents the body from functioning in a normal way.

Types Of Dementia

Did you know that there are over 200 sub-types? However staggering that number, the most common is Alzheimer’s disease accounting for 50-60% of all cases. The other more common ones include:

  • vascular dementia
  • dementia with Lewy bodies
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • mixed dementia

This condition is the primary cause of disability among the elderly and can also affect dependency at a later stage. For the most part, people with dementia are unable to take care of themselves and need help with everyday life.

What Causes Vascular Dementia?

This particular condition affects approximately 150,000 people in the UK. It occurs due to problems with blood supply to the brain as a result of diseased blood vessels. Without a proper blood supply, the brain cells will eventually die and this could cause memory loss and problems with thinking and reasoning.

What Is Lewy Bodies?

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It accounts for roughly 10-15% of all cases and is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s. This condition occurs as a result of tiny deposits of a protein (alpha-synuclein) appearing in the brain’s nerve cells. While nobody knows the exact cause, they have linked it to two important factors:

  • low levels of chemicals, particularly acetylcholine and dopamine that carry messages between nerve cells
  • nerve cells losing connection to one another which ultimately dies

Those suffering from a Lewy body disorder can develop issues with movement and changes in mental abilities. Someone with Parkinson’s disease is at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease dementia as their condition worsens (Alzheimer’s Society)

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

FTD encompasses many different conditions and is often referred to as Pick’s disease. This condition occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain die which greatly alters the neuro-pathways that connect the lobes.

When this happens, the symptoms of FTD include personality and behavioural changes and problems with language. These symptoms are somewhat different from the likes of Alzheimer’s disease though. Considering that FTD is not as common, many people and even some healthcare professionals may not know about it.

For a more detailed overview, check out the information from the Alzheimer’s Society.

Dementia In Young People

Contrary to what some may think, dementia affects about 42 000 people in the UK which is more than 5% of all cases. The causes of this condition are caused by similar diseases to those affecting older people but there are several key differences. Firstly, it’s important to note that there is a wider range of diseases that can cause young-onset dementia. Younger people are much more likely to suffer from a very rare form of dementia.

Young-onset dementia often causes problems with movement, walking, coordination or balance. This condition is much more likely to be hereditary than late-onset dementia as around 10% of people have inherited it from a parent. If it is inherited, the diagnosis could also have implications for other birth relatives including their brothers and sisters or children.

Lifestyle Changes Could Help Reduce Your Risk

Although there are no guaranteed prevention methods, avoiding certain risk factors and implementing a few lifestyle changes could help improve your physical and mental well-being. Here are only a few of the simpler lifestyle changes people can make to reduce their risk:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet based on the Eatwell plate
  • Stop smoking
  • Don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • Do 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week plus 2 days of strength exercises

People with type 2 diabetes and hypertension are also more susceptible. Other risk factors include depression, obesity and social isolation. While the risk factors and lifestyle changes account for 35% of the risk, the other 65% is unfortunately out of our control. That includes factors like ageing and family history.

Conclusion

Although there are certain things people can do to reduce their risk, there are no guarantees especially if it’s hereditary. Community pharmacies and other healthcare professionals can make a big difference in educating the public. They need to raise awareness about the disease, how to live healthier, following a balanced diet and the major risk factors.

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