Dementia or just forgetfulness?

By 2025 there will be 1 million people with dementia in the UK. Only 40% of people with dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive a diagnosis (Alzheimer’s Society).

We’ve all done it. Gone into a room for something, and then completely forgotten why we went there in the first place. Just a bit of forgetfulness; having too much in life to think about; or the start of something more serious such as dementia?

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. The trick is identifying what are just the effects of ageing and what could signify something more serious.

Different types of dementia

Not all dementias are a progressive, chronic condition. Some dementias are not only treatable but also reversible, for example, those caused by thyroid disease; some vitamin deficiencies; 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, 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, Huntingdon’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.  These diseases however make up only a small proportion of dementia cases.

Treating dementia

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 memory, and some medications can also help with both Alzheimer’s dementia and Lewy Bodies dementia, for example. It is common for patients with dementia to suffer from depression which should be treated with a combination of anti-depressants and talking therapies.

Treating underlying problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes is important.  In addition, maintaining a healthy lifestyle including both physical and mental stimulation can help.  A 35 year investigation by researchers at Cardiff University into preventing dementia highlighted five key behaviours which can prevent or reduce the effects of dementia: exercise, not smoking, having a low bodyweight, following a healthy diet and having a low alcohol intake.  Of all of them, exercise was found to be the most effective.

An accurate early diagnosis can also help to improve the chances of a patient maintaining their independence for as long as possible. The consultant psychiatrists at Private Psychiatry have many years’ experience in diagnosing and treating dementia and the effects of dementia. If you are concerned that you or a loved one are showing signs of memory loss, get in touch for a full assessment.

You can find further information on dementia, help and support on the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK websites.

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