Understanding dementia

What is dementia?

An umbrella term, dementia is actually made up of a number of conditions, all of which affect the brain. Most of the conditions which are included under dementia – such as vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease, for example – impact negatively on the ability to think. Cognitive function, the ability to remember and the ability to control emotions can all worsen over time. It is something that is often associated with old age - although it can affect younger people, too – and is sometimes known as senility when it is diagnosed in geriatrics. In the western world, only around three percent of the population suffers from the condition in the 65 to 74 age group. However, almost half of the people who are over 85 years old can expect to have it in some form or another.

What signs of dementia are there?

There are numerous symptoms of dementia that help to diagnose it. Early-onset signs include things like mild tremors, balance problems and difficulty with solving problems such as word puzzles. Social misjudgments are often associated with the middle stages of dementia, especially when an individual is outside of their home where they may have fuller control. Late-stage symptoms will usually require plenty of care services because the ability to clean and eat can be impaired as senility sets in. Depression, anxiety, apathy and delusional behaviour are all also known symptoms.

Can dementia kill?

According to some research, dementia leads to well over a million deaths per year these days and is on the rise. However, it should be said that dementia does not tend to point directly to fatalities. It is a condition which is associated with older age and so other health conditions may also have a part in the statistics, especially when the mental disorder prevents people from looking after themselves properly.

How can dementia be managed?

Senility and other types of progressive brain disorder are hard to manage. That said, there are some medical treatments which are given to patients that can slow down the rate of progress the disease makes. In some cases, psychological remedies are recommended by healthcare professionals, including playing memory games which get the brain used to form new neural pathways. Some alternative therapies have also been tried, and some people believe they are highly effective. Examples of this include aromatherapy and massage. However, gentle exercise is probably one of the most effective management techniques available to sufferers.

Will dementia be cured?

At the moment, dementia is an incurable series of conditions, and there is nothing that drug companies currently have that looks like it will change that situation. However, there are certain medications, known as cholinesterase inhibitors, that have been known to arrest the rate of dementia. Research into it continues, and certain types of dementia may well be cured in the future.

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