Dementia: a brief guide

The word dementia is used to describe a set of symptoms including: memory loss, difficulty thinking, problem solving, and difficulty recalling language. Dementia is often caused when the brain is damaged by a disease like Alzheimer’s, or by one or more strokes. If you’re suffering from dementia you may also notice changes in your mood or behaviour.


The top five causes of dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease – This is by far the most common cause of dementia. This disease affects the brain cells inside and out, loosening the connection between the brain cells, and causing some brain cells to die. The first signs are a loss of day-to-day memory, but you may also notice difficulties with finding the right words, problem solving, and decision making.
  • Vascular dementia – This is caused by a limited oxygen supply to the brain, which could be due to narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels causing some brain cells to become damaged or to die. This can happen suddenly following one large stroke, or slowly after a series of smaller strokes or after damage to small blood vessels deep in the brain. Symptoms are often similar to Alzheimer’s, and you might have find problem-solving or planning difficult, along with thinking quickly and concentrating. It’s common to have short periods where you get very confused.
  • Mixed dementia – This is when both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia occur at the same time.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies – this happens when abnormalities called Lewy bodies develop inside your brain cells. These can disrupt your brain’s chemistry leading to the death of brain cells. If you have dementia with Lewy bodies you may experience changing levels of alertness, difficulty judging distance, and hallucinations.
  • Frontotemporal dementia (also Pick’s disease) – this happens when the front and side parts of your brain are damaged by abnormalities inside your nerve cells cause them to die. Early symptoms include changes in personality and behaviour, and you may experience difficulties with your speech, forgetting the meaning of words or what word belongs to an object.


Who gets dementia?

Dementia is more common in those aged 65 and over, but it can affect people of all ages. While investigations are taking place into whether dementia can run in family genetics, it’s more likely that you’ll inherit a collection of genes that increase or decrease your likelihood of developing dementia.


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms will differ depending on the area of your brain that is affected, or the type of disease that is causing the dementia.

Because everyone is different and every brain is different, you are likely to experience your symptoms in a very individual way. The most common warning signs include:

  • Difficulty remembering thing that happen on a day-to-day basis
  • Difficulty with carrying out tasks like cooking a meal
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being unable to plan or organise a sequence of events/tasks
  • Difficulty following conversations or finding the words to contribute
  • Trouble with estimating distance, if you suddenly start finding it difficult to use the stairs this is an indicator
  • Finding it difficult to keep track of the day or date
  • Getting confused about where you are or why you’re there

If you know someone with dementia you may notice a change in behaviour to include asking the same questions over and over, pacing, and restlessness. They might also appear frustrated, irritable, anxious, or be easily upset or get unusually sad.


How is it diagnosed?

Early diagnosis makes a big difference in allowing you to prepare for the future, and in allowing those closest to you to adjust. If treatment is available for your type of dementia it is possible to continue leading an active and fulfilled life.

Getting a proper diagnosis also allows for other possible causes to be investigated. Memory loss or forgetfulness can be caused by depression or by an infection, which would require very different treatments.

There is no single test for dementia, instead diagnosis relies on a collection of processes.

Your doctor will take your history, getting to know when your problems started, and how they developed over time.

  • You’ll be required to take tests on your memory and thinking skills
  • You’ll need to undergo a physical examination and a series of tests that will rule out other causes of your symptoms
  • And you might need to have a brain scan

After an initial assessment by your GP you’ll probably be referred to a memory clinic or to another specialist clinic for detailed assessment. If you do have dementia your diagnosis will be clearly communicated with you and those closest to you, and you will be guided through next steps and forward planning.


Is there a cure?

Most of the causes of dementia cannot be cured, although there is a lot of research into this area and progress is being made on developing drugs, vaccines, and other potential medical treatments. Despite this, with the right support and care there is no reason why a person diagnosed with dementia cannot continue to live well with their condition. It’s a question of adapting to cope with the new situation.


What are the treatments?

Talking therapies and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with the adjustment process. If you think you would benefit from either of these babylon has a team of therapists who are available for sessions within days, from the safety, comfort, and privacy of your home.

Cognitive rehabilitation involves coming up with strategies to help you to live with memory loss. Cognitive stimulation can help those later in their condition, this focuses on life story work, where you’re encouraged to re-live your past experiences.

Staying active is key, get as much physical and mental stimulation as you can as this will help with your confidence and self-esteem.


Can dementia be prevented?

As there’s no definitive cause of dementia it is difficult to know the cause. Having said that high blood-pressure, lack of exercise, and smoking all contribute to a higher likelihood of developing dementia.

There is accepted evidence that a healthy lifestyle throughout your life, but especially in mid-life, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and drinking only in moderation all contribute to a lower likelihood of developing dementia later in life.

If you have high blood-pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and depression, it’s important that you receive treatment as early as possible to avoid risks later.


If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one don’t hesitate in booking a consultation with one of our GPs, who will be able to offer advice on the best course of action.