What is Dementia?
While many people may refer to dementia as a disease, it is actually a syndrome, or a group of symptoms that impact brain function. These symptoms can start small but have the potential to severely impact an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and process information.
Dementia happens when the brain becomes damaged. This can happen as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, traumatic head or brain injury, reduced oxygen supply to the brain, or a build up of protein and abnormal structures in the brain. The effects of diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease can also sometimes lead to dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia. In fact, it accounts for around 60-80% of cases. This is followed by vascular dementia, which is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. It is estimated that vascular dementia affects around 150,000 people in the UK according to the NHS.
Dementia can affect anybody under certain circumstances. But it is more prevalent in individuals over the age of 65. While there are certain ‘risk factors’ that can be attributed to the onset of dementia, it is usually very difficult to say for certain which of these risk factors were involved in its development, and whether it was at all preventable or not.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia can, and does, affect everyone differently. Therefore, there is no tried and tested way to predict what symptoms an individual will have, or how rapidly they will progress. A person’s environment and support network can also have an impact on the severity of their symptoms, and their ability to cope with them.
While we cannot predict with any amount of certainty how a person’s symptoms will manifest, there are some cognitive symptoms that are common in those living with dementia. These include:
Symptoms of Dementia
- Short Term Memory Loss - This is the most common early symptom of dementia. People with everyday forgetfulness can still remember facts associated with the thing, person or place that they have forgotten. For example, they may briefly forget a persons name but they will still know the person they are talking to. A person with dementia will not only forget a persons name, they may also forget the context through which they know said person.
- Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks - People with dementia can often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that were once very familiar. Examples of such tasks include dressing, making a cup of tea, preparing meals or taking medication. More often than not, the sequencing of steps may be out of order, causing confusion and distress.
- Problems with Language and Speech - Dementia can make it difficult for people to communicate, leading to upset and frustration for them and those around them. A person with dementia may have trouble finding the right words, they may repeat specific words and phrases, or they may even become 'stuck' on pronouncing certain sounds. When communication difficulties arise, people with dementia can feel a range of emotions, feeling anxious, withdrawn, depressed and misunderstood.
- Confusion and Disorientation - It's quite normal to sometimes forget what day it is or why we went to a certain room but for people living with dementia, becoming lost in familiar settings can become a regular occurrence. A person with dementia may frequently become disorientated in a familiar place, they may forget how to get home, and they may even forget the time and date or confuse day time with night time.
- Changes in Mood and Personality - A person with dementia may become unusually emotional and experience sudden mood swings, increased irritability, anger or suspicion for no clear reason. Personality changes can also be very common with people showing a decreased interest in hobbies and activities. Social withdrawal is also quite common.
- Changes in Perception and Hallucinations - Our sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch all collectively help us to make sense of the world around us. For people living with dementia, the brain can sometimes misinterpret the information from these sense, leading to what is called "changes in perception". This can lead to people with dementia misunderstanding the world around them. In some types of dementia, hallucinations can also be common as a result of this, especially for those with Parkinson's disease dementia and Lewy Bodies. People with Alzheimer’s disease can also experience hallucinations.
- Sleep Disturbance - Dementia can sometimes affect a person's sleeping patterns. It's quite common for a person with dementia to keep getting up during the night, they may also become disorientated upon waking up. This may result in the person being exhausted during the day and they may also sleep for long periods. The person may also be unaware of the sleep disturbances during the night.
Dementia symptoms do not happen all at once. So you may not notice all of them straight away. It is progressive, and therefore symptoms will become more noticeable (and have more of an impact) over time – although it is impossible to say how quickly.
In the later stages of dementia, symptoms can also include muscle weakness, changes in sleep pattern, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Supporting A Loved One With Dementia
If you know someone with dementia, or suspect a loved one may have dementia, it is important to get the right support. The effects of dementia are wide reaching and dealing with the changes they bring about isn’t always easy. However, it does not mean a person is beyond help. There is support out there for both you and them that ranges from helping you to understand how best to supporting them to live independent and fulfilled lives.
For more information about Lovett Care, and the type of support we offer for those living with dementia, please contact us today.
You can also find more helpful resources online from the following sources: