Dementia is…

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

gramps-at-woodstock2Facts 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.

7 Responses to Dementia is…

  1. Charlie says:

    For those of us with a family history of dementia, it would be useful to share tips on techniques which might delay its onset. There’s a good summary at http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/tc/dementia-prevention.

    The most useful method appears to be to keep mentally alert. The website suggests crossword puzzles as one way of doing so. Learning a new language is supposed to be very good too. My mother regularly attended Irish language lessons in the final few years of her life, and while I don’t think she made a lot of progress, she certainly found them very rewarding.

    I completed a Bachelor of Science degree last year, and have made intermittent attempts to learn Spanish, although I have no aptitude for languages. My daily hobbies include doing research (adding fully referenced material to Wikipedia).

    There is a correlation between taking of statins, which lower cholesterol, and delaying the onset of Alzheimers. I’ve been taking statins for years.

    Daily exercise is good – I do a half hour walk every morning. My blood pressure has always been good.

    Being involved socially is good too. I started posting to my cousin’s blog just the other day. 🙂

  2. Grannymar says:

    Didn’t want to interrupt the family chat. 😉

    I have difficulty in performing everyday tasks… everyday! I think my dementia is selective. 🙄

  3. Steph says:

    Charlie – Excellent link, thanks!

    I should indeed have included some tips on prevention of dementia. There seems to be many conflicting ideas on drug therapies.

    For example, my GP recently discovered that I’m markedly deficient in B12 (inability to absorb) and has commenced treatment. On researching this, I found to my horror that a B12 deficiency is thought to be a contributing factor in Alzheimers and yet others studies will dispute this. Statins are the same. Some studies show that taking statins will help delay the onset of dementia while others say that it has no effect.

    It seems to me that keeping mentally alert and as physically active as possible, is the way to go in terms of preventative measures.

    Blogging is a great way to keep the brain active. It’s certainly opened up my horizons and I hope to continue for many a year yet. My father was able to complete the newspaper crossword every day until about five years ago but then gradually his ability to concentrate began to slip and shortly afterwards, we noticed a marked deterioration in his memory. Now he can’t concentrate on anything for more than a moment or two so even television watching has gone out the window. I’m in no doubt that doing the crossword daily helped to delay the onset of his dementia.

  4. Steph says:

    Grannymar – You slipped in there. Unfortunately, ageing makes most things progressively more difficult and that’s what makes it hard to differentiate normal ageing from the the early signs of dementia.

    I remember in the early days of my mother’s dementia, her sense of direction was one of the first things to go. She set off in the car one day to visit a friend’s house nearby but never got there. She drove round and round in circles for several hours before finally finding her way home again in a very distressed state. That’s when my father realised that her forgetfulness was more than just normal ‘ageing’.

  5. My granny had senile dementia and as a teen it was the most discombobulating thing to see and try and understand. I frequently worry that my mum has early signs of it but god forbid I should try to do anything about it as hell hath no fury like my mother who is still far too compus mentus for me to do anything constructive. As we’ve all agreed, we’ll just wait to pick up the pieces in due course.

  6. annb says:

    Autonomy among those who, through ill health or disability, are dependant on others, is such a complex issue. If we can at least try to preserve the principles of dignity and respect, there is hope. I can confess to feeling one or all of the dementia symptoms when I’m stressed (which is very often!). It’s not a very nice place to be. I hope it teaches me to be tolerant and understanding should my dear old mum ever suffer. But will I remember? Note to self… dementia is not a lifestyle choice! Well done to you Steph on being there for your parents, it’s not an easy journey.

  7. Steph says:

    AV – Hopefully your mum won’t go on to develop dementia but if she does, the best thing you can do is to be as well-informed as possible about what to expect.

    How well I remember that stage of not wanting to intervene. It was actually a far more difficult time than now. My mother’s total resistance to help eventually led to frequent hospitalizations from falls and gradually the public health nurse became involved. She was instrumental in organizing respite care and the rest just followed.

    There actually comes a time (for their own safety) when you have to stop asking permission and just tell them that you’ve organised whatever it is that’s needed. That’s when the parenting role suddenly shifts and you find yourself in a position where they are happy to rely on you to make the decisions. Mum and I have had our battles over the years but now it’s 100% acceptance of anything I do to help her.

    Anneb – My Mum was hugely resistant to help all her life and she’s paid a heavy price for this. She is now in a position where she is totally dependent on others for absolutely everything, even scratching an itch! She still believes in her mind that she is capable of doing what she wants but the difference is, she no longer resists help. In fact she’s the most non-complaining, grateful person imaginable. This shift has not been easy for anyone but we do our best to respect her wishes and preserve her dignity as much as possible. Thanks for your support.

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