What is dementia?

Dementia refers to an overall term, such as heart disease, with the term dementia covering a wide range of specific medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. The term “dementia” is a group of activities which causes abnormal brain changes. These changes trigger a slow decline in memory and thinking skills, also known as cognitive abilities, which are severe enough to impair daily life and independent function.

There are 5 recognizable variations of the disease:

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60 – 80% of diagnoses in the UK. People who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s tend to suffer from a reduction of a chemical (acetylcholine) in the brain. This functions as a chemical messenger to take information to and from brain cells (neurons), so a reduction in this chemical leads to information not being transmitted effectively.

Vascular dementia

Around 17% of people diagnosed with dementia will have vascular dementia. It is the second most common form of dementia in the over 65’s. Vascular dementia, which occurs because of microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain, is the second most common cause of dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a group of conditions caused by the death of nerve cells and pathways in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The damage to the brain is linked to abnormally forming proteins that interfere with communication between brain cells.

Mixed dementia

At least one in every ten people with dementia is diagnosed as having more than one type or mixed dementia. The most common is a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. A person with mixed dementia would experience a mixture of the symptoms associated with the types of dementia they have.

Lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia is a progressive condition that affects movement and motor control. This is a progressive, complex, and challenging condition which is thought to account for 10- 15% of all those with dementia. In the early stages it is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease and can be diagnosed wrongly. It particularly affects the person’s ability to think and move and can cause hallucinations, fluctuations in alertness and sleep disturbances which can be extremely distressing for the person and their family.

Signs of dementia

Memory loss

Memory loss tends to be one of the main symptoms of dementia. The changes often start off subtle and tend to involve short-term memory. An older person may be able to remember events that took place years ago but not what they had for breakfast.

Other symptoms of changes in short-term memory include forgetting where they left an item, struggling to remember why they entered a particular room or forgetting what they were supposed to do on any given day.

Difficulty finding the right words

Another early symptom of dementia is struggling to communicate thoughts. A person with dementia may have difficulty explaining something or finding the right words to express themselves. Having a conversation with a person who has dementia can be difficult and it may take longer than usual to conclude.

Changes in mood

If you have dementia, it is not always easy to recognise this in yourself, but you may notice this change in someone else.

Along with mood changes, you might also see a shift in personality. For example, being shy to outgoing, becoming snappy for no reason or a previously timid person becoming aggressive. This is because the condition often affects judgment.

Apathy

A person with symptoms could lose interest in hobbies or activities. They may not want to go out anymore or do anything fun. They may lose interest in spending time with friends and family and they may seem emotionally flat.

Difficulty completing normal tasks

A subtle shift in the ability to complete normal tasks may indicate that someone has early dementia. This usually starts with difficulty doing more complex tasks like balancing a checkbook or playing games that have a lot of rules.

Along with the struggle to complete familiar tasks, they may struggle to learn how to do new things or follow new routines.

Confusion

Someone in the early stages of dementia may often become confused. When memory, thinking or judgment lapses, confusion may arise as they can no longer remember faces, find the right words, or interact with people normally.

Confusion can occur for a few reasons and apply to different situations. For example, they may misplace their car keys, forget what comes next in the day or have difficulty remembering someone they have met before.

Difficulty following storylines

Difficulty following storylines may occur due to early dementia. This is a classic early symptom.

Just as finding and using the right words becomes difficult, people with dementia sometimes forget the meanings of words they hear or struggle to follow along with conversations or TV programs.

A failing sense of direction

The sense of direction and spatial orientation commonly starts to deteriorate with the onset of dementia. This can mean not recognizing once-familiar landmarks and forgetting regularly used directions. It also becomes more difficult to follow a series of directions and step-by-step instructions.

Being repetitive

Repetition is common in dementia because of memory loss and general behavioral changes. The person may repeat daily tasks, such as shaving, or they may collect items obsessively.

They also may repeat the same questions in a conversation after they have been answered.

Struggling to adapt to change

For someone in the early stages of dementia, the experience can cause fear. Suddenly, they cannot remember people they know or follow what others are saying. They cannot remember why they went to a shop and they get lost on the way home.

Because of this, they might crave routine and be afraid to try new experiences. Difficulty adapting to change is also a typical symptom of early dementia.

If your loved one is struggling to adapt to change or you are struggling to manage, Serene Care can help. We understand that while the environment plays a big part for all residents, it makes an even greater impact on those with Dementia.

Each person who works here is trained on how to best help and support someone whose life has been irreversibly changed by dementia;

With our colourful environment, special adaptations and targeted activities to trigger reminiscing and fond memories, we want all our residents to enjoy their time at the Home.

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