What is dementia?

The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.  These are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life.  A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour. 

Dementia

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by disease.  The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease, but there can also be many other causes, such as a series of strokes.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms that someone with dementia experiences depends on the parts of their brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.  Different types of dementia tend to affect people differently, particularly in the early stages. 

Other factors will affect how well someone can live with dementia, like how other people respond to the person and how supportive/enabling their surroundings are.

Typical symptoms include cognitive symptoms (problems with thinking or memory).  This can include problems with:

  • Day-to-day memory – difficulties recalling events that happened recently
  • Concentrating, planning or organising – difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks e.g. cooking a meal
  • Language – difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something
  • Visuospatial skills – problems judging distances and seeing obstacles in three dimensions
  • Orientation – losing track of the day/date, or becoming confused about where they are

Other symptoms are likely to include changes in mood e.g. becoming frustrated or irritable, anxious, withdrawn, easily upset or unusually sad.

Some types of dementia may involve a person experiencing visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) or delusions (believing things that aren’t true).

Dementia is progressive, meaning that the symptoms gradually get worse over time.  How quickly it progresses varies from person to person. 

As it progresses, the person may develop behaviours that seem out of character e.g. repetitive questioning, pacing, disturbed sleep patterns or agitation. 

In the later stages, physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss are common, as well as changes in sleep patterns and appetite.

Who gets dementia?

Around 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia.  It mainly affects people over the age of 65 (1 in 14 people in this age group have dementia), and the likelihood of developing it increases significantly with age.  However, it can also affect younger people; over 40,000 people in the UK under 65 have dementia.  It can affect men and women.

How can I tell if I have dementia?

Becoming a bit more forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia. Many people notice that their memory becomes less reliable as they get older – for example they might forget someone’s name. Memory loss can also be a sign of stress, depression or certain physical illnesses. However, anyone who is worried that their memory is getting noticeably worse, or who has other symptoms such as those listed above, should discuss their concerns with their GP.

Getting a diagnosis

If you think you might have dementia, the first thing you should do is visit your GP and explain your symptoms. They can run tests and if they think you may have dementia, they will refer you to the Memory Assessment Team in Little Hulton.

It is very important to get a proper assessment of problems with memory or thinking.  They may be caused by a treatable condition such as depression or an infection, rather than dementia.

If the cause is dementia, a diagnosis has many benefits. It provides an explanation for symptoms, gives access to treatment, advice and support, and allows you to prepare for the future and plan ahead. Knowing the type of dementia is also important for identifying possible treatment options.

How is dementia treated?

Most causes of dementia cannot be cured, although research is continuing into developing drugs, vaccines and other medical treatments. There is also a lot that can be done to enable someone with dementia to live well with the condition. Care and support should be ‘person-centred’, valuing the person as a unique individual.

Support in Salford

There are lots of support groups in Salford to help if you or a family member or friend is affected by dementia.

The Alzheimers Society provide a Dementia Support Service. You can meet with a support worker who can give you advice on support services, claiming benefits and introduce you to support groups.  They also provide factsheets that cover everything about dementia, including drug treatments and how to cope with memory loss.

Salford Carers Centre can help you access a wide range of services that could make life easier for you.

Age UK Salford’s Dementia Support Service can provide advice, guidance and support to people, their carers and families. They run free support groups in Swinton and Eccles for people with dementia and their family members. They also run buddy groups for people with mild to moderate dementia. 

The Humphrey Booth Resource Centre in Swinton also provides an information centre and cafe where you can get support and take part in activities.

The Open Doors project runs a Dementia Cafe at the Woodlands Hospital and support group where you can share experiences and get information. Contact Cathy or Mike on 0161 772 3893 for more information.

Can dementia be prevented?

It is not usually possible to say for sure why a person develops dementia.  However, certain factors are known to lead to narrowing of the arteries and increase the risk the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.  These factors include high blood pressure, lack of physical exercise and smoking.

There is evidence that the risk of developing dementia can be reduced by living a generally healthy lifestyle, e.g.:

  • Regular physical exercise (e.g. cycling, brisk walking)
  • A balanced diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking
  • Drinking only in moderation

It is important that other conditions are treated early and kept under control, for example diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.

All these healthy lifestyle choices will also reduce the risk of other serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer.

Keeping socially and mentally active in the later years may also help lower the risk of dementia.