As one of the greatest medical challenges of our time, dementia is a condition that currently affects an estimated 850,000 people in the UK.
Dementia Action Week runs from 21st-27th May, with this year’s campaign from Alzheimer’s Society highlighting the simple things that people can do to improve the lives of sufferers, whether it’s learning more about the condition, making time to listen or not being afraid to approach an individual who may need help.
With this in mind, we’ve put together some facts about dementia that you may not be aware of.
Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease that damages the brain’s chemistry by causing nerve cells to die, resulting in dementia. This is simply the name for a set of symptoms that people experience when this degeneration occurs.
In fact, it’s an umbrella term to describe symptoms caused by several diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia with around 62% of sufferers having the condition.
Although commonly associated with forgetfulness, each person’s experience of dementia is different. Sufferers exhibit a range of symptoms from confusion and disorientation to mood and behavioural changes, impaired speech, delusions and hallucinations. This can make carrying out everyday tasks or even just keeping up with a conversation extremely difficult.
The majority of those suffering from dementia are over 65, but this does not mean that the condition is just something that happens as we get older. The likelihood of getting dementia does rise with age, however it can start much younger with people in their 30s, 40s and 50s also being affected.
Despite what many people may think, in most cases it’s not possible for dementia to be passed on unless the cause is genetic like Huntington’s. Alzheimer’s is generally not thought to be hereditary, however a gene has been identified which can carry the condition in extremely rare circumstances.
These days there is plenty of support available enabling many living with the condition to still lead an active and independent life by making a few adjustments. Carrying a personal alarm can help sufferers should they get lost or into difficulties, especially those linked to a monitoring center. Devices with GPS are especially useful as they enable loved ones to locate an individual’s whereabouts.
According to the Office of National Statistics, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the leading cause of death in England and Wales, (ahead of heart disease and stroke) being responsible for 12% of fatalities in 2016. This figure is even higher for women at 15.6%.
Currently dementia cannot be cured, however research continues in the hope of a breakthrough. Drugs have been discovered which can improve symptoms or temporarily slow the progression in some individuals, but it’s still early days.
Alzheimer’s Research UK have warned that the country faces a ‘looming national health crisis’ as the population ages. Without a cure it’s predicted that around a third of the people born in 2015 will develop dementia at some point during their lives.
For information and confidential support or advice about dementia you can contact the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122. Lines are open daily at the following times: