What comes to mind when you think of dementia?
Old people, one would assume — dementia is always assumed to be an old person’s disease. That aside, you probably don’t know much more about dementia because the illness is often hidden from view. If you’re faced with the condition in your family, it tends to be dealt with quietly and behind closed doors. This is a consequence of the fact that dementia sufferers, by the very nature of their illness, are unable to advocate for themselves and ensure the topic has sufficient awareness.
It’s a topic that needs awareness, though. Dementia is a growing problem worldwide, and it’s likely that everyone will experience it — either through their own condition or when it happens to friends and family. Below, let’s run through the most frequently asked questions about dementia to improve knowledge of this most elusive of conditions.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms such as poor memory, language, and processing skills.. It is often described as a mental health condition, but this is something of a misnomer. While the symptoms of dementia manifest as a mental health condition, it is a physical disease; the degradation of the brain, primarily due to old age but also due to a number of other conditions. Vitamin deficiencies and viruses can cause dementia symptoms.
It is one of the most common conditions in the U.S. It is believed there are nearly six million Americans living with diagnosed dementia, and potentially the same again who have yet to be diagnosed.
Is Dementia The Same As Alzheimer’s Disease?
It’s estimated that up to 70% of people with dementia also have Alzheimer’s Disease, but the terms are not interchangeable. Alzheimer’s is more advanced and degenerative, and is a disease in and of itself rather than the umbrella term “dementia”. Unlike some causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s cannot be cured or eased.
Who Gets Dementia?
The vast majority of dementia cases occur in people over the age of 65. However, it is believed around 200,000 people in the USA are currently living with early-onset dementia. While dementia is often characterized as a disease of old people, it can affect people of any age — though admittedly is far more common in the over-65 age bracket.
Is Dementia Inevitable?
No, not at all. Dementia is not just part of becoming older. Many people incorrectly assume that dementia and old age go hand in hand, but this isn’t necessarily the case at all. Thousands of people are as mentally sharp in their 80s as they were earlier in life — it’s not an inevitability at all. In fact, some campaigners believe the “dementia is inevitable” attitude — which also exists in some spaces of the medical community — means that the condition is overlooked.
Is Dementia Deadly?
If left untreated for long enough, yes, dementia can be fatal. It’s classified as a terminal disease, meaning that it will eventually kill the patient. However, great strides have been made in this area, improving the life for dementia sufferers and brightening outcomes.
It is worth mentioning that dementia without Alzheimer’s Disease present is still terminal, but the outlook is much brighter and the survival rates post-diagnosis are much longer. A secondary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does shorten life expectancy, as the illness is more progressive and aggressive.
How Is Dementia Diagnosed?
Most often, the symptoms of dementia are noticed by friends, family, and caregivers rather than the sufferer themselves. Some of the most common early signs of dementia include:
- Short term memory reduction.
- Mood changes — often one of the most recognizable signs that something is amiss. Many people with dementia become more easily frustrated or angry, which should be a sign something is amiss if they were previously a cheerful and placid person.
- Confusion at tasks they should know how to handle, or have done before without hesitation.
- Sense of direction failures, such as suddenly not being able to navigate within a home town or city that they once knew well.
- Lethargy or apathy, which is especially noticeable when they no longer show an interest in things that they used to enjoy.
If you notice these symptoms developing in a loved one, it is wise to ask them to seek medical advice. Often these changes are quite subtle, but they will become more apparent over time. When these things are noticed, a doctor or geriatrician will complete a series of tests to see if the changes are perceived or have a basis in medical fact. If these tests reveal a problem, a formal diagnosis of dementia will be made.
How Is Dementia Managed?
There is a variety of different strategies to help manage dementia, ranging from medical treatments to effective senior care that allows people to feel comfortable living in their homes for as long as possible. There is no tried and tested treatment for dementia; there is, at this time, no cure either. Instead, much of the management is focused on improving life quality and encouraging independence for as long as possible.
While dementia is degenerative, it may progress incredibly slowly after the initial onset. This gives the sufferer and their family the time they need to adjust to their new normality, allowing measures to be put in place to support the sufferer in all ways possible.
Is There Anything That Can Be Done To Prevent Dementia?
The idea of whether or not dementia can be prevented is a topic of much debate in the medical community, and opinions differ. It is notoriously difficult to study dementia as so many cases go unreported in the early stages, so the progression is hard to map and thus correlate into results.
However, the medical community largely agrees that keeping your brain as active as possible is the best way of staving off dementia. Several mental tasks are often recommended to keep your brain healthy in later life, including:
- Continuing to learn. This could be a language, a subject you don’t know much about to begin with, or just enjoying playing along with trivia and quiz shows. Anything that makes you think is thought to be beneficial to keeping your brain as healthy as possible.
- Problem-solving. By the time we get into our twilight years, most of us have got life figured out, more or less — there isn’t much call for problem-solving or having to figure something out for ourselves. If we don’t use this part of our brain, then it is theorized that it degrades due to lack of use. Any kind of problem-solving, from puzzles to playing around with DIY, is recommended.
- Socializing. It’s well known that loneliness is a huge problem for older people, but this issue could also made the onset of dementia more likely. Socializing and engaging with others is just another way of working out your brain, so keeping active in this regard could help to prevent dementia.
The above are the medically agreed-upon possibilities for what might prevent dementia, but ultimately, not enough research has been done on the subject. What is for sure is that quack remedies — such as eating copious amounts of coconut oil — are not proven to be beneficial in other ways, and could cause other issues. Of course, there are plenty of reports online of people who have seen miraculous recoveries due to coconut oil, but without proper medical research into the subject, it is a risk too big to even consider.
Dementia is a difficult illness that is often poorly understood. Hopefully, after reading through the above, you will be better placed in future to understand it — and have picked up a few ideas for things you can do that might lessen your risk of suffering from it in the future.