Dementia is becoming more and more prevalent amongst the population, particularly with people living longer. It can be one of the toughest conditions to accept and to deal with – not only for the sufferer but also for his or her family and friends. It can often cause other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress – and even a sense of bereavement for those living with close family members suffering from dementia.
Although there is as yet no cure for dementia, there are treatments available to help with some of the mental ‘side effects’ of the condition which can prove a real comfort for those coping with dementia. At Private Psychiatry we recognise that dementia is something which can effect sufferers directly and indirectly and in many ways, which is why we offer a specialist dementia service for dementia patients and their families.
Dementia can take many different forms. Some are not only treatable but also reversible, for example, those caused by thyroid disease; some vitamin deficiencies; subdural haematoma; meningitis; brain tumours; alcohol misuse; the pseudo-dementia of depressive illness and chronic liver failure. It is therefore important to be assessed by a specialist once symptoms have been detected, to establish the exact cause of the dementia and to minimise the associated worry and uncertainty.
The most common cause of degenerative dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which affects the chemicals and cells in the brain, with amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, causing problems in the transmission of messages from one cell to another.
Vascular dementia is usually caused when blood vessels in the brain become blocked or damaged leading to a faster degeneration of memory than in the case of dementia associated with Alzheimer’s.
Other causes of dementia include Lewy Bodies dementia, a result of protein deposits in the brain, fronto-temporal dementia, Huntingdon’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease, but these diseases make up only a small proportion of dementia cases.
Memory loss often occurs as we age, however additional symptoms which may indicate dementia include changes in personality, impaired judgement, communication problems and eventually difficulty with carrying out normal day to day activities. As dementia progresses, more care is needed.
There are therapies and drug treatments available to help with slowing the symptoms of dementia. Group cognitive stimulation and reminiscence therapy have both been shown to help with the patient’s memory. Drugs such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can also help with both Alzheimer’s dementia and Lewy Bodies dementia. Vascular dementia can be helped with low doses of aspirin to prevent further strokes.
It is common for patients with dementia to suffer from depression, and sometimes those closest to the patient can also suffer from depression and stress associated with coping with the changes in personality displayed by their loved one. For some, there can be a sense of loss for the person that is no longer as they were. Conditions such as these can be treated with a combination of anti-depressants and talking therapies which can alleviate some of the symptoms and make it easier for people to cope with their illness.