Dementia is one of the most distressing and, for many of us, terrifying conditions we can face. The prospect of a steady decline into memory loss as our loved ones look on doesn’t bear thinking about.
For years it has seemed a spectre we can do little to prevent. But one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health throughout life, according to a international study in the Lancet.
While the exact cause isn’t known, age is one major factor – it affects an estimated one in 14 people over 65, and one in every six people over the age of 80. Another risk factor seems to be a family history of the condition – early red flags are usually minor memory problems, such as forgetting about recent conversations, events or the names of things.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which affects multiple brain functions, including memory. It is a progressive condition with symptoms becoming more and more severe over time. It is a life-limiting illness and on average people with Alzheimer’s disease live for between eight to ten years after they start to develop symptoms.
But just because you do have a family history, or you are ageing, doesn’t mean the condition is inevitable. Making positive changes to your health as early as possible, such as stopping smoking, exercising, eating healthily and treating high blood pressure will not only reduce your risk of dementia, but also of cancer and heart disease and will improve your overall quality of life.
Being forgetful is quite normal, and can be linked to tiredness or stress, for example; but if you’re experiencing it daily, or it’s bothering you or someone close to you, you should talk to your doctor. Dementia doesn’t just affect the memory – it can cause changes to your mood, judgement, language, and movement, and it’s not a normal part of the ageing process. There’s no single test that can be used to diagnose dementia and your doctor will ask questions about any problems you are experiencing and often perform some basic blood tests to rule out other conditions.
As with most conditions, the earlier a diagnosis the better in terms of starting to manage its development and symptoms. If it is diagnosed, there is prescription medication available that may help relieve some of the symptoms and slow its progress.
There are support groups that can help patients to manage the symptoms of the disease, and help provide support for both patients and their families, such as providing adaptations for the home or arranging nursing support.
Dementia diagnoses have been increasing, mainly because we are living longer as a population. It does affect you or someone you know, the sooner you reach out for support, the better.
For more information, visit the NHS website here:
The Alzheimer’s Society website also contains lots of useful information: