Dealing with dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term describing symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases or conditions. The most common type is Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease causes a progressive loss of brain cells, with symptoms beginning as minor memory problems and difficulty saying the right words, before gradually developing into disorientation, personality and behavioural changes.

The exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, however factors which are thought to increase the risk of developing the condition include: increasing age, previous severe head injuries, a family history of the condition, down’s syndrome and vascular disease. Several unhealthy lifestyle factors associated with vascular disease such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are also thought to increase risk.

As Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, there are different stages of the condition depending on the rate at which it develops. No two cases of Alzheimer’s are ever the same, with each individual reacting differently to the disease, and some deteriorating much quicker than others.

Generally however, there are three stages to the condition: mild, moderate and severe.

Mild Alzheimer’s disease: Common symptoms of the first stage of the condition include forgetfulness, mood swings and speech problems indicating a gradual loss of brain function. This is because the first section of the brain to start deteriorating is the section controlling memory and speech functions.

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease: As Alzheimer’s disease develops it causes symptoms such as disorientation, poor vision, obsessive or repetitive behaviour, disturbed sleep, delusions, difficulty judging distances and finding your way around.

Severe Alzheimer’s disease: With severe Alzheimer’s disease, the above symptoms are exemplified, and the person may develop additional problems including difficulty swallowing and moving around, weight loss or a loss of appetite, increased vulnerability to infection and finally a complete loss of short-term and long-term memory.

If you are worried that you, or someone close to you has a form of dementia, it is best to visit your GP and get a diagnosis as soon as possible. The diagnosis will usually be based on ruling out other, similar conditions using a blood test and a general check up.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease; however there are medications available on prescription that can help delay the condition’s progression, along with further clinical trials in development. Those who have Alzheimer’s will also need to create a care plan, as Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s ability to look after themselves and remain entirely independent. Life expectancy can be shorter, as health conditions are more likely to remain untreated and develop rapidly. Often, Alzheimer’s will be a contributing factor to a cause of death, as opposed to the actual cause.

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