The term dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia is an umbrella term and is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse. Dementia doesn’t just affect older people. There are 40,000 younger people with dementia in the UK.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects one in three people over the age of 65 years. It is not an inevitable consequence of aging. It is caused by a physical disease which progressively attacks the brain.
There are more than 520,000 people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease. During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemical messengers help to transmit signals around the brain. When there is a shortage of them, the signals are not transmitted as effectively. Current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease can help boost the levels of chemical messengers in the brain, which can help with some of the symptoms.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are generally mild to start with, but they get worse over time and start to interfere with daily life.
There are some common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but it is important to remember that everyone is unique. Two people with Alzheimer’s are unlikely to experience the condition in exactly the same way.
For most people with Alzheimer’s, the earliest symptoms are memory lapses. In particular, they may have difficulty recalling recent events and learning new information. These symptoms occur because the early damage in Alzheimer’s is usually to a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which has a central role in day-to-day memory. Memory for life events that happened a long time ago is often unaffected in the early stages of the disease.
Memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease increasingly interferes with daily life as the condition progresses. The person may:
- lose items (eg keys, glasses) around the house
- struggle to find the right word in a conversation or forget someone’s name
- forget about recent conversations or events
- get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
- forget appointments or anniversaries
For more information visit www.alzheimers.org.uk
Other types of dementia are Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), Huntington’s disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
All types of dementia are progressive. This means that the structure and chemistry of the brain become increasingly damaged over time. The person’s ability to remember, understand, communicate and reason gradually declines. How quickly dementia progresses depends on the individual. Each person is unique and experiences dementia in their own way.
Most people with this progressive condition prefer to remain in their own home for as long as possible. To achieve this it may be necessary to make some adaptions to their homes or to use new equipment and/or assistive technology such as basic things like a simple calendar, a noticeboard or sticky notes or more sophisticated aids like safety devices such as gas detectors and water level alerts. There are many aids that have been designed to enable people with dementia to remain independent for longer or make it easier for others to give support.
To find out more information and download a factsheet on assistive technology please visit www.alzheimers.org.uk