Dementia – FAQs and Figures
What is dementia?
- Dementia is a general term for the symptoms caused by a variety of diseases of the brain, the most common and best known of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Other common types of dementia are vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. There are also some rarer varieties such as frontotemporal dementia.
- Each of these diseases has its own characteristics in terms of how it affects a person and how the illness is likely to progress. What they have in common is that they all affect your brain’s ability to function normally. More detailed information about the different types of dementia is available here from Alzheimer Scotland.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- The most easily recognised early signs of dementia are unusual difficulties with memory. Of course, particularly as we get older, many of us may find it harder to memorise new phone numbers, new PIN numbers, or the names of people we’ve met only briefly. This can be annoying, but is rarely any cause for concern. On the other hand, if you start to have difficulty remembering where you’ve been, how to get home, or the words for everyday objects, or how to do things you do all the time, you should report this to your doctor.
- It’s important to understand that feeling confused and having problems with your memory does not necessarily mean you have dementia. In fact there are a number of other possible explanations. and your problems may well be caused by a treatable condition. Stress and depression, perhaps following a bereavement or a separation, can often temporarily affect our ability to think clearly, as can thyroid problems or acute infections. The important thing is to see your doctor as soon as you start worrying something is wrong – if only to put your mind at rest.
- People with dementia may appear irritable as they react to the difficulties they are having, and feel frustrated by their loss of ability to accomplish everyday tasks with ease. They may misplace things like keys and purses, and suspect others of having moved them.
CLICK ON THE PICTURES to listen to the experts – members of the Scottish Dementia Working Group, who all have a diagnosis of dementia, talk about how it started for them…
Is there a cure?
There is still no cure for dementia, despite ongoing efforts for more than a hundred years. Both the UK and US governments have pledged a significant increase in dementia research funding from this year. This will still leave spending on dementia research lagging well behind what is spent on say, cancer, despite the much greater burden it represents to health and social care spending.
Are there any treatments?
Three drugs – Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl – are prescribed specifically for dementia, and may help some people by temporarily slowing down the advance of the disease. They work by affecting the chemical balance in the brain. Official guidelines recommend their use only in mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer’s disease – they are less frequently used for other types of dementia. A fourth drug, Ebixa, is licensed for use at the more severe stage of the illness.
Vascular dementia is associated with impaired blood flow to the brain, and its progress may therefore be influenced by treating underlying conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems with medicines and the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.
How many people are affected?
Estimates of the number of people affected by dementia are notoriously subject to underestimation because many people (up to 50%) may be unaware that they have the disease. In Scotland, the latest number of people with a diagnosis is 82,000.
See figures from Alzheimer Scotland.
Worldwide, it’s estimated there are now over 35 million people living with dementia, and it’s predicted that this number will double every 20 years. With improvements in health care, 58% of these people now live in developing countries like India and China – a proportion set to increase to over 70% by 2050.
See figures from Alzheimer’s Disease International.