Dementia describes a group of symptoms which includes memory loss, confusion, mood changes, and difficulty with everyday tasks such as washing and dressing. This can often be accompanied by a change in a person’s behaviour and difficulties managing and planning their own affairs. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia but is not the only one. Vascular dementia is the second most common type. But there is no single cause for dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, around two in every 100 people aged 65 to 69 years old have dementia. This rises to one in five for those aged 85 to 89 years old. It’s described as being a complex mix of genetic and lifestyle factors. Whilst it’s considered a condition affecting older people, early-onset dementia can affect people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and early-60s. In the UK, at least 40,000 people under 65 have dementia. Reducing the risk of dementia is important (see section below).
There are said to be around 47.5 million people worldwide living with dementia. This is predicted to rise to more than 150 million by 2050. And in the Surrey Downs area around 2,400 people have been diagnosed with dementia although over 40% of people living with the condition are thought to be undiagnosed.
In the UK, 62% of people with dementia are female and 38% are male. This is likely to be a consequence of the fact that women live longer than men and age is the biggest known risk factor for the condition.
It can be difficult to identify the symptoms of dementia. It is normal to have occasional memory lapses and to lose things, to forget why we have gone upstairs, or to come back from a shopping trip without the very thing we went for. However, unless there is something wrong, we tend to retain a huge store of general knowledge, an ability to plan and manage our affairs and, our orientation in time and place.
Because of this, many people go to their GP when they are in crisis. But with timely diagnosis, those with dementia and their carers can be supported to manage the syndrome. There are a range of medications and approaches available.
If you are worried that you or somebody you care for may have dementia or be at risk of developing it, your GP will be able to advise and diagnose you, or refer you to a memory clinic.
Can dementia be prevented?
There is increasing evidence to suggest that there are some simple things we can do to help lower our risk of dementia.
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Eating a balanced diet
• Exercising regularly
• Quitting smoking
• Drinking alcohol in moderation
• Keeping cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level.
The Alzheimer's Society also produce a helpful guide on reducing the risks.
Keeping mentally active and retaining social networks may also help keep your brain active. The Alzheimer's Society, Age Concern and Age UK are amongst the organisations that run social events you could attend. This can help improve your mood, relieve stress, reduce the risk of depression and reduce loneliness. It’s important to take time for your mental wellbeing too.There is no hard evidence that taking vitamin supplements can prevent dementia.
By taking these steps now, you can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you are older.
Although many people may have a relative with dementia, it does not mean you will develop it too. In rare cases, someone may inherit a faulty gene which could cause a specific type of dementia.
There are pre-existing conditions which could incease your risk of dementia. These include:
• Parkinson's disease
• type 2 diabetes
• high blood pressure.
If you need more information please speak to your GP or visit the Alzheimer’s Society website. Public Health England is also running its One You campaign to help adults, especially those aged 40-60 years old, to get healthy. Find out more here.
Why get assessed for dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of diseases and conditions, which may be treated using medication or by making lifestyle changes. Please click here for more information from the Alzheimer's Society.
Treatment may help people to feel happier with life and increase their ability to do more once they have been assessed.
Carers may be more alert to risks, and better anticipatory care may help prevent hospital admission. It is also an opportunity for patients and families to discuss and express their wishes for future care.
Patients in care homes can benefit from an diagnosis as a home may be able to acquire increased expertise or support which they may not have otherwise had.
How is dementia assessed and diagnosed?
Dementia assessment is not a mysterious process – it is quite straightforward but important. Your GP may be able to diagnose you or could refer you to our memory clinic.
Our local memory clinic is in West Park Epsom. The clinic’s assessment consists of gentle testing of memory and is done in a relaxed manner over a morning or afternoon. They may offer further tests but there is no compulsion to complete any part of the assessment.
The person's GP will talk them about any concerns and ask a few questions. Some people like to bring in a relative to help them talk things through and remember information for later. Your GP will order some blood tests and then together you can decide whether a referral to the memory clinic would be appropriate.
Following diagnosis, the patient may be referred to a Dementia Navigator. These people are employed by the Alzheimer’s Society and are specially trained to help a patient, their carers and family ‘navigate’ what can appear to be a complicated system. The Dementia Navigator can help to signpost the patient to activities or organisations outside of the NHS, who will be able to supply more hands on support. They can also help to explain some of the questions that will naturally arise following the assessment process.
Caring for someone with dementia
Being a carer can feel lonely sometimes but there is help out there. Organisations like the Alzheimer's Society, Age UK, Carers UK and on the NHS Choices website amongst others can provide emotional and practical support. They can give you give expert advice and help with benefits. Many can also talk to you about new ways to manage at home.
Care for the Carer is a useful short video containing interviews with carers about their experience of looking after someone with dementia, and interviews with professionals about what carers can do to retain their mental wellbeing while being a dementia carer.
You can watch it here via YouTube [20 minutes].