Dementia is an umbrella term used for a range of symptoms that manifest in a progressive decline in a person’s functioning, caused by degenerative disease of the brain. It is characterised by a gradual deterioration in memory and in the person’s ability to carry out everyday activities, make decisions, understand information and express themselves. It may also affect the person’s mood and personality. Dementia usually has an insidious onset, with most people developing symptoms gradually over a period of years. At present, it is not known what causes the different types of dementia. Medical research is ongoing throughout the world to discover the cause and develop new treatments. Put simply, dementia happens.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in Ireland, accounts for more than 50% of all cases; the second most common form is vascular dementia, which may be preventable. While the risk of dementia increases with age, dementia is not a natural part of ageing.
Early signs and symptoms of dementia:
Usually a person will display a number of these signs:
- Memory loss, particularly for recent events
- Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Changes in personality
- Disorientation in familiar surroundings
- Problems with language
- Poor or decreased judgement
- Misplacing things regularly
- Difficulty solving problems or doing puzzles
- Loss of interest in starting projects or doing things
Facts and figures:
- There are currently more than 40,000 people in Ireland with dementia, with the number expected to be in excess of 104,000 by 2037 unless there is a medical breakthrough.
- Dementia can affect younger people; currently approximately 3,800 people in Ireland under the age of 65 have Younger Onset Dementia.
- Dementia affects the lives of nearly 50,000 people in Ireland who are involved in caring for someone with the symptoms of dementia.
If you are worried that a family member may be experiencing the early symptoms of dementia, you should contact your general practitioner (GP). The GP may refer you on to a specialist, such as a geriatrician, neurologist or a psychiatrist in the psychiatry of old age services, who will conduct a full assessment to try to establish the cause of symptoms. The earlier help is found, the better the family and person with the condition will be able to manage and cope.
For further information on dementia and on services, contact the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.