Who gets Dementia & What does it look like?

Who can get Dementia?

Dementia cases are on the increase and it is estimated that in the UK alone there will be close to 1 million people with dementia by 2020.

Unlike some illnesses, dementia is one of those that can affect anyone.

As people age the risk of having dementia increases and it is believed that 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 has some form of dementia in some way.

The are several different types of dementia but Alzheimer’s is the most common.

As mentioned above, dementia can affect anyone and there are lots of well-known celebrities and public figures that have suffered from dementia;

  • Perry Como
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Charles Bronson
  • Charlton Heston
  • Terry Pratchett

and lots more

Importance of getting a diagnosis

Recognising dementia is not easy for someone that is relatively unfamiliar with the illness.  However, once you have lived with a person, as I have, that suffers from this illness, it actually stands out a mile.

However, it is important to get a proper check up by your local GP.

Generally, you’ll be asked a few questions and your doctor will assess your medical history before making a final decision on whether you’re developing the symptoms of dementia.

Having a diagnosis, whether you are confirmed as having dementia or not can actually be a weight off your shoulders.

Whilst nobody wants to suffer from dementia, at least you, your family and your doctor can begin to ensure you receive the best course of treatment to ensure good quality of life.

It can be terribly worrying when you go for your assessment by your GP and I would advise that you take a loved one with you for support, you will need it whatever the outcome.

What Types of Dementia are there?

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.

It actually accounts for around 60 to 80 percent of all cases of dementia.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s normally include:

  1. Difficulty remembering recent conversations
  2. Problems recalling names or events
  3. Lack of interest, unresponsive or detachment

Later symptoms include:

  1. Disorientation
  2. Confusion
  3. Poor Judgement
  4. Difficulty speaking and swallowing
  5. Unsteady on their feet

What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular dementia was previously better known as post-stroke dementia and also multi-infarct dementia.  This type of dementia is far less common than Alzheimer’s and only accounts for around 10 percent or less of total cases.

Early Signs of Vascular dementia:

  1. Impaired Judgement
  2. Poor Decision Making
  3. Poor Planning Skills
  4. Motor function problems like writing and walking problems

Vascular Dementia Causes

Vascular dementia occurs most commonly when the brains’ supply of blood becomes reduced by blood vessel blockage, narrowing blood vessels or bleeding in the brain.

If there is clinical evidence of 2 or more causes of dementia then the patient is diagnosed as having ‘mixed dementia’.

What is Dementia with Lewy Bodies?

Lewy bodies are an abnormal build-up of the protein ‘alpha-synuclein’ in neurons (a cell that transmits electrical and chemical signals).

People suffering from DLB will have many of the common symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease but will also have been possibly suffering from the following disturbances.

  1. Sleep Disturbances
  2. Visual Hallucinations
  3. Poor Balance
  4. Seemed to have slowed down
  5. Poor posture
  6. Visuospatial impairment

Visuospatial Impairment can be found in dementia sufferers in many ways such as;

  1. People being able to close their eyes and describe what they are holding easier than looking at the object with their eyes open.
  2. Getting lost in a familiar environment like attempting to go to the bathroom to use the toilet but ending up looking through the bedroom window instead

I have witnessed the second example above many times whilst looking after my grandma. 

She would often say ‘I need a wee’ and then as we lived in a bungalow I could see her heading towards the bathroom but then turned left into her bedroom.

Sometimes she would urinate whilst standing up looking through the window and then get upset and used to say ‘the money’s coming out’, I would then know she would be urinating and having a poo.

This is the type of confusion you may witness, but as with all dementia patients, reactions can vary from person to person.

The brain changes of DLB alone can cause dementia, but very commonly people with DLB have coexisting
Alzheimer’s pathology

Mixed Dementia

Characterized by the hallmark abnormalities of more than one cause of dementia — most commonly Alzheimer’s
combined with vascular dementia, followed by Alzheimer’s with DLB, and Alzheimer’s with vascular dementia and DLB.

Vascular dementia with DLB is much less common.

Various studies have suggested that mixed dementia is much more common than previous research had indicated.  Approximately half of older people with dementia have clear pathological evidence of more than one cause of dementia.

Recent studies also indicate that the probability of mixed dementia increases with age, with the highest in people aged 85 or older.

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD)

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) includes dementias such as behavioural-variant FTLD, aphasia, Pick’s disease, and progressive supranuclear palsy.

Early Signs Include:

  1. Change in personality
  2. Problems with behaviour
  3. Difficulty building sentences
  4. Difficulty answering questions

The symptoms of FTLD may occur in those age 65 years and older, similar to Alzheimer’s, but most people with FTLD develop symptoms at a younger age.

About 60 percent of people with FTLD are ages 45 to 60.

FTLD accounts for about 10 percent of dementia cases.

Parkinson’s disease (PD)

In Parkinson’s disease, alpha-synuclein build up appears deep in the section of the brain called the substantia nigra. This is thought to lead to degeneration of the nerve cells that produce dopamine, a chemical that releases signals to other nerve cells.

Parkinson’s causes problems with movement including tremors, poor gait, and increased rigidity.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

This disease can be passed down through generations of genes and results from a misfolded protein that then causes other proteins to misbehave and malfunction.

This disease fairly recently made the headlines when it was reported that it came from consuming products from cattle affected by mad cow disease.

This can cause fast regression in affected humans where you can expect rapid memory loss and behaviour changes.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus

People with a history of meningitis and brain hemorrhages are at an increased risk.

Symptoms can include walking and movement, as well as memory loss and being unable to control urination.

Dementia in Numbers…

So I’ve mentioned the different types of dementia, now let’s take a look at the facts and figures that surround this illness.  Firstly, dementia is extremely common and currently, there is no cure for it.

With some of the types of dementia, there are things doctors can help you with to ensure that the illness is controlled better and will present ideas of ways of improving your day to day life.

  1. Dementia is pretty rare below the age of 65
  2. 5% of under 65-year-olds have dementia
  3. 16% of adults over 85 years old have dementia
  4. 2 thirds of dementia patients live at home
  5. People can live with dementia for approximately 8-10 years after diagnosis
  6. Nearly everyone with dementia will get worse over time
  7. Eventually, sufferers will need extra care

Treating & Living with Dementia

Once you have been carefully examined by your doctor and you have received the heartbreaking news that you or a loved one has dementia, it is now time to act to ensure the best end of life treatment you can get.

In recent years drug development has come on tremendously and your doctor will know the best course of treatment for you.

I can always remember when my grandma went through a time during her battle with dementia.

She was having mood swings and was prescribed a drug called trazodone that helped her sleep but also stopped the highs and lows and she became much more manageable and calmer.

Over the years there has been great progress made into treatments of dementia and as mentioned above there are now drugs available to treat memory loss and slow the progress of it.

Living with Dementia

It is quite common for someone with dementia to have a good quality of life as long as their support network is stable, consistent and reliable.

As they experience difficult periods during the illness they will rely even more on the care package as they encounter anxiety, depression, sleep problems, incontinence, and aggression.

These problems can be managed with drugs but it can be very difficult trying to administer these whilst the loved one is experiencing these issues.

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