Dementia may have taken the lives of many of those you loved and the fear about it remains. However, these facts will help you be more aware and abate the fear.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 1, 2019. It has since been updated.
The rate of dementia deaths in the US has more than doubled between 2000 and 2017 making it the sixth leading cause of death, Center for Disease Control says. Even in the UK, it is a leading cause of death for men and women, yet there is not enough awareness about it. For instance, dementia is not the name of a disease - instead it is a term for symptoms like memory loss, confusion, and personality change caused due to brain-related diseases.
There are multiple kinds of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer's is so common that it is the cause of almost half the deaths among the nearly 262,000 deaths attributed to dementia in 2017 in the US.
These are big numbers but the message here is not fear, it is that when you know what to expect you will be better prepared:
Forgetting a face or where you kept your keys sometimes is normal. The older we get it might happen more often even, but this is not what dementia looks like. Forgetting things is only one of the symptoms that are experienced by those suffering dementia. People also have a harder time planning, thinking clearly, or keeping track of a conversation. They might also experience personality and mood change. It is not a natural part of aging and doesn't affect every single elderly person. In fact, there are more than 40,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK experiencing early-onset dementia, according to Alzheimer's Society.
For a lot of people, dementia is equated to memory loss but the effect is wider. People experience a change in behavior, confusion and disorientation, delusions and hallucinations
difficulty communicating like remembering the right word or keeping up with the conversation, problems judging speeds and distances, problems with balance and movement, according to Alzheimer's Research UK. Everyone experiences the condition differently.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive one that causes the degeneration of nerve cells. This progresses slowly but can be fatal. The other kinds of dementia include vascular dementia, which is the effect of low blood supply to the brain, mixed dementia, which occurs due to a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The others are dementia with Lewy bodies, the most famous case being Robin Williams, frontotemporal dementia (including Pick’s disease). These usually leave a person incapable of going about their daily functions on their own. They snatch away a person's independence gradually, but that doesn't always have to be the case.
While a cure may be a while away, there are some treatments that can work in managing symptoms. These allow people to have an active life despite the condition, which is why it is crucial to see a doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms. There are drugs available that can stop the symptoms from progressing. There are also therapies like cognitive stimulation, which might involve doing word puzzles, or creating an organized life storybook, as well as staying active – physically, mentally and socially.
There are risk factors that can increase your chance of dementia, like age, medical history, and genetics, but these can't be controlled. Then there are factors like smoking, diet, and not enough exercise, which can be controlled. According to the Alzheimers Research UK, at least one-third of dementia cases are linked to factors we can change. So quitting smoking, keeping cholesterol and blood pressure under control, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and drinking less than 14 units of alcohol per week will reduce risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimers.
Disclaimer: This article is based on facts collated from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.