Your Doctor

Dementia: The Facts

Dementia affects 47.5 million people globally, and 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed every year. There is a common misconception that dementia is a disease, when in fact dementia is caused by lots of diseases. The word dementia is an umbrella term for the symptoms caused by these diseases such as confusion, memory loss, and personality change. 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. This disease currently affects 850,000 people in the UK. During the progression of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ and this leads to a loss of connections between nerve cells, which eventually causes death to the nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. 

At this point in time, some treatments help patients to cope with the illness but there is no known cure or a way to slow its progression. Some drugs can improve thinking, memory and communication in some patients, but not all patients see an improvement. Doctors sometimes recommend cognitive therapy, which is designed to stimulate thinking skills and engage patients with dementia. 

It’s a common conception that dementia only affects memory but everyone’s experience of dementia is different. Some people may have difficulty with their vision or communication, others may experience hallucinations, have problems judging speeds or distances and even intense craving for particular foods.

However, it is possible to still live an active and independent life with dementia, despite how daunting the symptoms might seem. Support mechanisms and strategies are essential to an independent life but it is possible. Take a look at our tips on how to support someone living with dementia:- 

1. Keep your loved one as appropriately active as possible to stimulate the brain and improve overall mood. Keeping up their confidence and making their lives feel valued is vital, as is keeping up a healthy diet.

2. If the person finds speaking difficult, speak slightly more slowly and simply, and be aware of your tone of voice even if you feel frustrated. Having good eye contact will help them focus on you and your conversation. Try not to speak on their behalf in a conversation and give them time to answer.

3. Organise an appropriate treat or outing to include the person with dementia, such as a walk in the park or perhaps take them out to lunch to somewhere they might enjoy. Look over old photographs and spend time with them when you can.

4. Offer practical tips for how to make life easier such as writing instructions on how to turn on the washing machine, or a labelling where things are in the kitchen and have important phone numbers by the phone. Practical solutions can make a huge difference to daily life. 

If you suspect that a friend or relative might be suffering with an undiagnosed case of dementia then seek the help of your GP.