What is dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms of a group of illnesses which cause damage to the brain and lead to a progressive decline in a person’s functioning. It is a broad term used to describe difficulties with memory, thinking, speech and language, social skills and physical functioning.
There are many types of conditions that cause dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy Bodies.
Dementia can happen to anybody, but it is more common after the age of 65.
The early signs of dementia can be very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Some common symptoms may include:
- Progressive and frequent memory loss
- Getting muddled about times, days and dates
- Personality change
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks
People often say ‘I can’t remember people’s names’ or ‘I always lose my car keys’. The thing to look for is a difference in your normal ability. If you have never been good with people’s names or you have always misplaced items then it may not be a problem.
If you are worried about memory loss then you should see your GP. The memory problems you are having may be as a result of stress or another condition which is treatable.
However, if your GP thinks you need to see a specialist, you may be referred to one of our memory services. If this happens, you will have a very detailed assessment to enable us to tell you whether or not you are showing the early signs of dementia. The assessment may include simple tests to determine whether you are having memory, reasoning or other functioning issues and brain scans if necessary to determine the type of dementia. If you are then diagnosed with dementia our team will provide you with help and support.
There is currently no cure for dementia but there are a variety of drugs that can help the symptoms. Like all other drugs, some may not necessarily be the best course of treatment for one person but may work well for another. Drug treatments will be explained by your specialist and reviewed over time to make sure they are still beneficial.
Our aim is to try and support people with dementia so that they can remain at home as long as possible. After the Memory Services have completed their assessment and treatment, you may be referred to one of our Community Mental Health Team (CMHTs). These teams provide specialist advice and support to people with dementia, their relatives and carers. Not everyone with dementia will need to be under the care of the CMHT, there are many other agencies such as your GP, social services and voluntary organisations that will be able to provide you with the help you need.
People who are no longer able to live safely at home may need to be admitted to a residential or nursing home. Staff from the CMHTs provide specialist support to these nursing homes and help staff to look after people with dementia with specialist care needs.
Most people with dementia never need to be admitted to a mental health ward. Sometimes people in the much later stages of the illness may need to be admitted to hospital for a short period of time if they are very distressed. Our hospital teams include nurses, psychologists, doctors and occupational therapists. They provide care and treatment for people in hospital and aim to help people return home as soon as possible.
Can you prevent dementia?
Unfortunately no form of dementia is completely preventable. Older age and a family history of dementia are risk factors as well as high blood pressure, lack of exercise, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and head injury.
There are things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing dementia. The most conclusive research to reduce your risk links to conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. So to reduce your risk, try to keep you heart healthy. This means watching your weight, eating healthily, not drinking too much alcohol, keeping mentally active by learning new things or keeping socially active and doing regular physical activity. You should get your blood pressure checked and treated if necessary and have other health checks for high blood sugar and cholesterol.
Dementia can start to develop 20 years before you notice any symptoms, so looking after your mind, heart and body from an early age is essential.
Find out more
Other useful websites
Alzheimer’s Society www.alzheimers.org.uk
Alzheimer’s Disease International www.alz.co.uk/
Alzheimer’s Research UK www.alzheimersresearchuk.org
Search for dementia services using our clinical service finder
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