Dementia is a term used to describe a syndrome resulting from diseases of the brain. It is a chronic and potentially progressive condition that affects memory, decision making, cognitive processing, behaviour, and can ultimately significantly impair ones ability to perform basic daily activities. Advanced disease can result in immobility, complete loss of capacity to communicate, incontinence, appetite loss, weight loss and frailty.
There are numerous disease processes causing dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common subtype, affecting 60%-80% of dementia sufferers. Typical signs include memory problems like forgetting faces, names, events. Other signs are asking questions repetitively, an increase in difficulty with tasks requiring organization and planning, confusion in unfamiliar environments, poor judgment, and personality/mood changes. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies, Parkinson’s disease dementia, mixed dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
As part of the aging process small differences in memory can be normal, however serious problems can compromise normal functionality. Signs that mean it is time to talk to a doctor include asking the same questions multiple times, getting lost in familiar areas, having trouble following directions, becoming more confused about places, people, and time, and not taking care of oneself.
Dementia is prevalent in society. On average one in every 14 people over the age of 65 suffer from it. There are roughly 10 million new cases each year with more than 55 million people worldwide living with dementia. Given that it not only impacts the suffer, but family and friends too, it is likely that most people will encounter this disease in some way or another.
Scientific research has identified risk factors for the development of dementia. Risk factors that are immutable include advancing age, family history, and down syndrome. Some risk factors can be modified, including diet, exercise, smoking status, diabetes, excessive alcohol use, certain medications, vitamin and nutritional deficiencies, sleep quality and low levels of cognitive stimulation.
Treatment strategies for dementia are typically tailored to the underlying causative pathology. Whilst there is no specific ‘cure’, there are options available which can help slow disease progression. This, done in conjunction with lifestyle changes to address the modifiable risk factors such as dietary changes, frequent exercise and engaging in activities for cognitive stimulation, can make a significant positive impact on the prognosis. Whilst early recognition is key in this, many are sensibly taking a proactive, preventative approach by attending annual ‘well person’ medicals to establish their specific risk profile and speak to a doctor about changes they can make to improve their future health outcomes.
If you, or anyone you care for are worried about memory problems then please speak to a doctor. We would be delighted to help you at ROC, where Dr Catherine Butchart is a resident Consultant who specialises in the care of the elderly, and is an expert in the management of dementia, as well as falls, fatigue, dizzy spells, blackouts and has a specific interest in Lifestyle change and wellbeing more.