What is Dementia?

Rather than being a disease in its own right, ‘dementia’ is the name given to a group of symptoms associated with a decline in mental function. Dementia sufferers might experience problems with:
• memory,
• communication,
• concentration,
• perception, and
• decision-making.

When we say that memory loss might be a symptom of dementia, we’re not just talking about forgetting where you put your keys or what you had for lunch – this is a decline serious enough to have an impact on how you live your life.

The most common form of dementia, accounting for around three quarters of cases, is Alzheimer’s disease. The next most common is vascular dementia, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is reduced, possibly following a stroke.

Six warning signs to watch out for
This is by no means a definitive list, but – especially if a person is over the age of sixty-five – the following points form a useful checklist of things to watch out for.

1. Becoming forgetful
• Forgetting the names or birthdays of family members or close friends.
• Repeatedly asking the same questions.
• Keeping reminder notes for everyday tasks.
• Forgetting to wash yourself or clean your teeth.

2. Becoming confused
• Not knowing what day – or even year – it is.
• Not knowing where you are.
• Being unable to differentiate between past, present and future events.
• Misplacing things and accusing others of stealing them.
• Being unable to tell the difference between banknotes with different values.

3. Struggling to do everyday things
• Not being able to set a TV programme to record.
• Setting out to travel to a familiar destination and getting lost.
• Not knowing how to use (for example) the washing machine.

4. Making poor decisions
• Being duped by and handing money over to people who knock at the door and say (for example) there’s a problem with the roof that they can fix.
• Letting strangers into the home without first checking their credentials.

5. Struggling to communicate
• Getting confused over words when speaking or writing.
• Losing track of a conversation and stopping suddenly in the middle of a sentence.

6. Losing a sense of self
• Withdrawing from the wider world because of the issues above.
• Acting in ways that are out of character.
• Feeling ‘fearful and tearful’ – overly anxious and overly emotional.

Some of these indicators are present … what next?
If you, or someone close to you, are demonstrating any of the above symptoms, the best thing to do is to arrange a doctor’s appointment. It might be something unconnected, such as undiagnosed illness or the side-effects of medication, or it might genuinely be the early signs of dementia. Either way, proper diagnosis and treatment are essential as, whatever the cause, it is best treated sooner rather than later.

Help is at hand
While the initial symptoms might be worrying and a confirmed diagnosis life-changing for all concerned, the good news is that you don’t have to face any of this on your own – help is available. The first step is to get a firm diagnosis, which will be followed by the appropriate treatment and support. This gives those affected the chance to plan for the future and – with the appropriate assistance – to continue to live an active and fulfilled life for as long as possible.

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