What is Dementia?

What is Dementia? Dementia is a general term for the decline in mental ability which can be serious enough to interfere with aspects of daily life. Memory loss is an example of this along with mood changes and a lack of ability to communicate. These symptoms occur when the brain is damaged by certain diseases, such as Alzheimer's or following a series of small strokes.

Dementia is a very common condition and it affects approximately 800,000 people in the United Kingdom & 5,000,000 in the United States. Dementia normally occurs in people over the age of sixty-five. As you get older it is quite normal to have some memory loss, as your memory is affected by age as well as stress and also tiredness. However, if the memory loss starts to affect your daily routine or is particularly worrying, it is important that you seek advise from your doctor. Not only for reassurance but also it is important because if a loved one starts to develop memory loss and the symptoms show dementia, an early diagnosis can help people with dementia get the right treatment.

Dementia is a progressive disorder, so over time symptoms will gradually get worse. The speed at which dementia progresses depends on the individual and also can depend on what kind of dementia the individual has.

What are the main symptoms of dementia?

Symptoms of dementia often include the following; loss of memory, communication problems, difficulty with concentration, depression, and changes in mood and personality. Dementia affects a persons short-term memory, perhaps forgetting earlier conversations or repeating themselves. Communication problems include difficulty in finding the correct words to describe something, for example describing the function of an item instead of using its given name.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by damage to the cells in the brain. This interferes with the brain cells and their ability to work with each other. This lack of communication between cells directly affects behaviour, feelings and also thinking. There are many different diseases that result in dementia. They are as follows:

  1. Alzheimer's disease - This is the most common cause of dementia. When someone has Alzheimer's the chemistry and structure of the brain change, resulting in the death of brain cells. Problems of short-term memory are usually the first sign.
  2. Vascular dementia - If the oxygen supply to the brain fails, the brain cells can die and this can cause the symptoms of vascular dementia. These symptoms generally occur after a stroke, or over time often after a few small strokes.
  3. Dementia with Lewy bodies - When tiny abnormal structures develop inside nerve cells in the brain, their presence results in the degeneration of brain tissue. Symptoms can include disorientation and hallucinations, as well as problems with planning and problem solving. Memory loss can be less affected with this type of dementia.
  4. Fronto-temporal dementia - Damage is usually focused in the front part of the brain. At first, personality and behaviour changes are the most obvious signs of this type of dementia.

Can dementia be prevented?

It is not clear what causes the diseases that result in dementia so therefore it is not clear what can be done to prevent dementia itself but it seems that in particular; exercising, eating low amounts of saturated fat, not smoking, only drinking small quantities of alcohol and in addition keeping mentally active into old age can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia.