HEALTHPLAN MAGAZINE

Understanding Dementia Health Tips

If you find that you are becoming increasingly forgetful - and you are over the age of 65 - you might want to consider visiting your Doctor to discuss the early signs and symptoms of Dementia. It's true that most people, as they age, become prone to forgetting things, and it's perfectly normal for us all to be affected by stress, tiredness, age, illnesses or the medications that we take. However, when your forgetfulness occurs regularly, especially on a daily basis, then it is time to reach out to your GP.

Dementia is more common than you may have realized. In the UK there are approximately 800,000 people with a diagnosis of Dementia, and one person in every three will develop Dementia after the age of 65. Two thirds of those sufferers will be women. By 2021 it is estimated that 1 million people will have Dementia in the UK because we are living longer.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome rather than an illness. It is a broad name for a group of related symptoms that are all linked with the on-going decline of the brain and our mental and cognitive abilities. Sufferers may therefore have problems with:

  • How quickly they can think and how agile their mind is
  • Memory loss
  • Understanding, judgment, empathising
  • Language
  • Behavioural problems – increased aggression and agitation

Some people with Dementia become uninterested in their usual activities and struggle in social situations. They may experience personality changes or have hallucinations. They may say things that are untrue. Some patients start to find planning and organising difficult and they may need support because they cannot live independently anymore.

Medication/treatments Currently Available

No two Dementia patients are the same and so each case will be taken on an individual basis. There are a variety of simple treatments available along with therapy options that will help improve symptoms of aggression and agitation and of course there are medications.

The most common medications are antipsychotic drugs although these have side effects when used over a long period of time. Drugs do not work in about 50% of Dementia cases so they should only be used in appropriate situations. Risperidone - is licensed for use in people with dementia, as is aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine and haloperidol.

The side-effects of antipsychotic drugs occur when they are used for longer than 12 weeks. They can include: shakiness and unsteadiness that may ultimately lead to falls; sedation; blood clots; stroke and a general worsening of dementia symptoms. Sadly, antipsychotics have also been associated with higher mortality in people with Dementia residing in care homes.

Person-centred care can also be used to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms. A care plan will target a person's interests, abilities, history and personality to ensure they are engaged through one to one conversation and activities that interest them. Wherever possible, family and carers should always be involved in decisions about a person's care and treatment, because their personal knowledge of the sufferer is invaluable.

Signs of Dementia

The symptoms of Dementia can include:

  • Depression or a change in personality and mood
  • Increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organisation, concentration and planning
  • Periods where the person is confused – even where things or places are familiar
  • Memory loss – especially forgetting recent events, names
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Asking questions repetitively

As the early symptoms of Dementia are mild and get worse gradually, the signs of the condition can be missed. Talk to your doctor sooner rather than later if you are at all worried, because the brain becomes more damaged over time.

Different Forms of Dementia

The symptoms listed above are common in all forms of Dementia. However, there are a variety of types of dementia and these each have other distinctive features. Alzheimer's disease is one illness that leads to Dementia. During the course of the disease, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells. Vascular Dementia occurs when the supply of oxygen to the brain fails – perhaps after a stroke or a series of small strokes. In Dementia with Lewy bodies - tiny spherical structures (the Lewy bodies) develop inside nerve cells which cause the degeneration of brain tissue. Fronto-temporal dementia affects the personality and behaviour of a person more than memory as the damage is in the front part of the brain.

There are other rare causes of Dementia including multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Progressive supranuclear palsy and Binswanger's disease can also lead to Dementia, as can Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Korsakoff's syndrome (caused by heavy drinking) and the cognitive impairment that is sometimes associated with HIV and AIDS.

How Can You Reduce the Risk or Prevent Dementia?

There are a number of ways to improve or maintain the health of your brain. Just like your body, your brain needs regular exercise and a healthy diet. In addition to this you should ensure that you reduce your stress and find ways to make certain that you get plenty of good quality sleep. Mental stimulation as you get older is vitally important too – it isn't enough to spend hours in front of the television. Make sure you do something that challenges your brain, such as puzzles and jigsaws and ensure you keep up a good social life. Conversation and laughter will help to keep Dementia at bay.

Researchers have also suggested that there is a correlation between high blood pressure and a greater risk of getting dementia.

In a recent study, researchers used MRI scans to study white matter lesions on the brain and found people with hypertension have a greater chance of accumulating them and therefore have a higher risk of getting dementia.

Neurological experts believe that there is a growing body evidence to suggest that reducing blood pressure can not only help prevent cognitive decline, but also reduce the risks of stroke and heart disease.

Image credit: alexraths / 123RF Stock Photo

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