Read this article for more information about dementia and its different forms, diagnostic tests for detecting it early on, available treatments and prevention methods against it.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a loss of cognitive ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. That means that even if you’ve had Alzheimer’s for years and forget where you put your keys, that’s not dementia. Dementia can affect memory, the ability to reason and solve problems, the ability to understand language, the ability to focus and pay attention, the ability to create new memories, the ability to recognise people and places, and the ability to understand time and money. Dementia is caused by disorders that affect the brain and its ability to function properly. It can be a sign of an illness or injury, as well as a complication of an existing condition.
Normal ageing vs. dementia
As people age, they are more likely to experience memory problems and other cognitive changes that are often mistaken for the onset of dementia. Some of the most common conditions that are mistaken for dementia are depression, anxiety, vitamin B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, vitamin B1 deficiency, and hyperthyroidism. Age-related cognitive changes are often referred to as “age-associated cognitive decline” or “normal ageing,” and are not as severe as dementia.
Types of dementia
Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive function severe enough to interfere with daily life. There are many different types of dementia, each caused by different diseases and health conditions.
In general, two types of dementia are recognised:
- Progressive dementias worsen over time and typically have no cure
- Non degenerative dementias are caused by a specific injury or illness. They may get better if the underlying problem is treated
Each type of dementia has its own set of symptoms, causes, and prognosis.
They can be broken down into three major categories:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Lewy Body Disease
- Other dementias
Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow in the brain, either due to a blockage in the arteries leading to the brain or a decrease in blood flow due to poor heart health. The decrease in blood flow may cause parts of the brain to die, leading to a loss of cognitive abilities such as memory, language, attention span, and the ability to reason.
People with vascular dementia may also experience personality changes, mood swings, and altered sleep patterns. Vascular dementia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in people over the age of 60.
Some risk factors for vascular dementia include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a history of heart disease. There are no specific symptoms for vascular dementia, but it can be detected through MRI or CT scans.
Treatment for vascular dementia often focuses on managing risk factors and addressing underlying heart problems.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) damages the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for decision-making and regulating emotions. This type of dementia begins with personality changes and behavioural issues, followed by cognitive decline. Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the degeneration of neurons in the brain, typically due to abnormal protein build-up.
There are two types of frontotemporal dementia:
- Primary Progressive Aphasia
- Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia
Primary Progressive Aphasia symptoms include language difficulties and problems with visual perception, whereas Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia symptoms include difficulty communicating and forming coherent thoughts.
Alzheimer’s and dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is estimated that around 50% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. The most common misconception about Alzheimer’s is that it only affects older adults. In reality, it can occur in people of all ages, and the risk increases with age. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behaviour. It is caused by abnormal protein build-up and a decrease in the ability to create new memories. Due to this fact, people with Alzheimer’s often have trouble remembering things that happened recently, as well as important life events.
Lewy Body Disease & dementia
Lewy Body Disease (LBD) is a type of dementia caused by protein build-up in the brain. It is one of the most common forms of dementia that is not related to Alzheimer’s. The most common symptoms are visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances, and cognitive decline. LBD is caused by abnormal protein build-up in neurons, which interferes with their ability to function properly. This can cause a variety of symptoms that affect the cognitive, behavioural, and emotional health of the person. Due to this, LBD can be difficult to diagnose and the progression is different for everyone.
Awareness and early detection of dementia
Early detection and diagnosis of dementia can help minimise its impact on the future of the patient. There are some simple tests that can detect dementia in its early stages.
Some of these include:
- Neuropsychological tests
- Vision and hearing tests
- Blood tests
- MRI scanning
- SPECT scanning
Memory tests for dementia
There are several different kinds of memory tests that can help determine if a person has dementia or not. These include:
- Mini-Mental Status Examination
- Cognitive screening tests
- Neuropsychological tests
- Functional tests
- Visual Spatial Tests
Treatment for dementia
There are no specific treatments for dementia, but there are remedies that can help with the symptoms that come with the disease.
- Alternative therapies
- Nursing Care
- Respite care
Prevention of dementia
There is no definite way to prevent dementia, but there are certain lifestyle choices that can lower your risk of getting it.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Healthy brain exercises
- Regular check-ups
Support for people with dementia and their families and friends
There are several excellent organisations that can support people with dementia and their families.
Dementia UK is a national charity that provides advice and support about dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society has a dementia directory to find support near you. And their Dementia Friends initiative is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. From telling friends about the Dementia Friends programme to visiting someone you know living with dementia, every action counts.
The Alzheimer’s Society provides a dementia support service in Luton for people with dementia and their carers, family and friends.
See the NHS guide on dementia.
We are here to help unpaid carers across Luton
We are open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday 10am to 4pm, and on Tuesdays from 10am to 7pm.
Call: 0300 303 0201
Simply click the pink ‘Chat with us’ button below, open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Our charity can help you find local support for people with dementia and their carers
The Disability Resource Centre is a small charity that supports disabled people living in Milton Keynes, Luton, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire.
Our team can help you find local support for people with dementia. Please contact us to discuss how we can help you, which may include arranging a free appointment with our Benefits Advisor. They are an expert in helping people with claiming benefits for disabled people and people with long term health conditions.
Come to The Disability Resource Centre’s mobility equipment shop in Dunstable
They can provide advice and also stock a range of mobility aids, if you need help getting around, including a variety of:
- Walking frames
- Walking sticks
Visit the mobility equipment shop at the Mayfield Centre, 4 Mayfield Road, Dunstable, LU5 4AP.