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Dementia: A Guide For All Ages

An active mind is a good thing

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 likely don’t know a lot more about dementia because the illness is often hidden from view. When the condition affects a family, it’s often 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 living with it themselves 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 that include 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. Approximately 3.4 million Americans 71 years old or older have dementia. That’s 13.9 percent or 1 in 7 elderly people within this age group. And that’s not counting those who have not been diagnosed yet.

Alzheimer's may occur too
About 70% of dementia sufferers also have Alzheimer’s Disease. Pixabay photo (CC0).

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 than dementia. Moreover, Alzheimer’s is a disease in and of itself rather than the umbrella term “dementia.” 

Who Gets Dementia?

The majority of people living with dementia are over the age of 65. However, it is believed around 200,000 people in the U.S. currently live with early-onset dementia. While dementia is often characterized as a disease of old people, it can affect people of any age, although admittedly it is far more common in the over-65 age bracket than the under-65 group.

An overlooked condition in the medical community
The phrase “dementia is inevitable” is false. Photo via Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons.

Is Dementia Inevitable?

No, not at all. Dementia is not simply part of getting older. Many people incorrectly assume that dementia and old age go hand in hand, but that isn’t necessarily the case at all.

Indeed, thousands of people are as mentally sharp in their 80’s as they were earlier in life; my grandma was a great case in point! So it’s not an inevitability at all. In fact, some campaigners believe the “dementia is inevitable” attitude, which also exists in some parts of the medical community, means that the condition doesn’t get due attention.

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 when that’s the case. A secondary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does shorten life expectancy, as the illness is more progressive and aggressive.

Medical diagnosis
Often everyone around the sufferer notice the symptoms first. Pixabay photo (CC0).

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 are:

  • Short-term memory reduction
  • Mood changes. Many people with dementia become more easily frustrated or angry, which should be a sign something is amiss if they were previously cheerful and placid in overall temperment
  • Confusion aboug basic tasks or about activities done before without hesitation
  • Sense of direction failures, such as suddenly not being able to navigate within own home
  • Lethargy or apathy; they no longer show an interest in things that they once enjoyed

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 to Manage Dementia?

There are many different strategies to help manage dementia, ranging from medical treatments to effective senior care that allows people to feel comfortable living in their homes 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 focuses 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 go into place to support the sufferer in all ways possible.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Dementia?

The idea of whether or not dementia is preventable is a topic of much debate in the medical community. There are many different opinions here. It is very 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 does agree for the most part that keeping your brain as active as possible is the best way to stave 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, or just enjoying playing along with trivia and quiz shows. Anything that makes you think can be beneficial for keeping your brain as healthy as possible.

Problem Solving

By the time you reach your twilight years, most of you have got life figured out, more or less. There isn’t much call for problem-solving or having to figure something out for yourself. If you don’t use this part of our brain, though, then one theory is that it degrades due to lack of use. Any kind of problem-solving, from puzzles to DIY projects, are recommendable.

Socializing

It’s well known that loneliness is a huge problem for older people, but this issue could also make the onset of dementia more likely. Socializing and engaging with others is another way of working out your brain, so keeping active in this regard might help to prevent dementia.

While the above points are the medically agreed-upon possibilities for what might prevent dementia, ultimately not enough research has been done on the subject. What is for sure though is that quack remedies, such as eating enormous amounts of coconut oil, are not proven to be beneficial in other ways.

Furthermore, those “remedies” might even lead to 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.

Continue Learning about Dementia to Help Those with It

Dementia is a difficult illness that is often poorly understood. Hopefully, after reading through this guide, you will be in a better place to understand it. I encourage you to do a few of the activities to lessen your risk of suffering from it in the future.

Does any of the dementia research above surprise you? Why or why not?

19 thoughts on “Dementia: A Guide For All Ages”

  1. This is a great blog and it has a lot of interesting background. I’ve found that sharing the stories about my mum’s wonderful conversations is a great and cathartic process to enjoy her, tell her whole story and look past the behaviour to the wonderful woman behind it. Keep it up – great to be following you. Sonia from soniasmum x

  2. A very helpful post. It is always difficult to strike a balance between frightening people and informing them. Memory is not a easy subject I’m sure we only remember highlights of our past . I’m 75 and cannot recall much of my early childhood.

  3. Excellent post, as usual, Christy. Very thorough discussion of the topic and advise on treatment. I know my mom, who is in her mid seventies, tries to keep her mind active by playing sudoku and reading KIndle books.

  4. Lovely post , Christy. Worked with dementia patients for decades. It’s a debilitating disease and very sad to witness family members and clients decline . Treating effected loved ones with dignity is the key and of course prevention ( exercising brain as much as possible and ) is a must to escape this awful diagnosis.

  5. Such a succinct and informative article Christy. You did a great job of distinguishing between Dementia and the often confused with Alzheimer’s. Cheers to good health! <3

  6. Good stuff, Christie. One thing I have discovered is that aging does not reduce the need for problem solving. I thrive on it. Apartment living offers a different range of problems. I have a 98 year old friend who recently moved to a nursing home and is in Hospice Care but nowhere near death. She has solved for herself how to adjust to and thrive in her new environment. She is having a book of her memoires published. Never underestimate vintage-aged persons.

  7. Great post Christy, with good advice on warning signs and avoidance tactics. It’s true that most people will know someone with the disease, be it themselves or someone close to them. It’s not a pretty picture to look forward to.

  8. Lovely post on an important subject. I worked in care for a little while and briefly worked alongside a woman from Poland who was doing a study on Dementia here in the UK. Now this is purely anecdotal but I found it interesting when she said dementia barely exists in many Eastern European and Far Eastern countries, and one theory is that they still live in the more traditional way of having extended families in one home, so the grandparents were still heavily involved in the day to day running of the household and helping raise the grandkids and so keeping their brains more active as you mentioned.

  9. I really enjoyed this post, Christy. I do volunteer work with my dog at a residence for patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer. Oftentimes the patients are anxious, lost and lonely and holding a dog or petting it seems to calm them.
    Now, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of orange juice!

  10. Great post, Christy. Staying mentally active and physically healthy are good defenses. I attended a lecture last year on this topic – drinking lots of orange juice is also a good preventative.

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