Let’s talk about dementia

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Did you know that a new case of dementia is diagnosed every three seconds around the world? That’s a pretty scary statistic and one that makes it even more important to have a good understanding of dementia, its causes and treatment.

What is dementia?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Dementia is a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities.” It is important to note that dementia is not a disease, but rather a cluster of symptoms that result from a breakdown in cognitive function.

What causes dementia?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly and accounts for as much as 70% of all cases. Other types of progressive or irreversible dementia include Vascular, Dewy body and Frontotemporal dementia.

Who does dementia affect?
According to the WHO, there are roughly 50 million dementia sufferers worldwide, with this figure estimated to increase to as many as 82 million by 2030 and 152 million by 2050. Currently, over 10 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed each year. Here are some other statistics to consider:

  • Around 62% of people with dementia live in developing countries.
  • Roughly 2.2 million South Africans suffer from some form of dementia (Census 2011).

What are the symptoms of dementia?
The WHO breaks dementia symptoms down into three distinct stages: early, middle and late. Early stage dementia includes symptoms like forgetfulness and losing track of time. These progress to forgetting names and recent events, getting lost at home, and wandering. By the time a patient reaches end stage dementia, the symptoms have extended as far as difficulty recognising familiar faces, being unaware of time and place, and struggling to walk. Some patients even display aggressive behaviour during this stage. Other common symptoms according to Mayoclinic.org include:

  • Struggling to find the right words and express oneself
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in personality
  • Inappropriate behaviour

Can it be prevented?
While aging is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, there is evidence to suggest that the risk of developing this syndrome is increased by several modifiable risk factors. These include:

  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking and drinking
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Lack of cognitive activity

Can dementia be treated?
While it cannot be cured, early diagnosis ensures that it can be well managed and that carers are equipped to cope with the associated symptoms and offer ongoing support.

When should you seek professional advice?
It’s important to consult a doctor or specialist when someone you care about starts experiencing problems with their memory or displays other symptoms associated with dementia. Remember though that not all memory loss is the result of dementia, so it’s important to identify the cause as early as possible, as it may be treatable.

It starts with outstanding healthcare
Continuing care is part of our Partnership for Life promise at Evergreen Lifestyle Villages. And while we can’t predict the future, our friendly, experienced nursing staff are always available to help residents manage it whether in one of our specialised frail care centres or in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their homes.

Sources

Alzheimers.org.za
Mayoclinic.org
Who.int