Dementia

What is it?

Dementia is broadly used to describe conditions which lead usually to gradual decline in memory, cognitive skills (how we think about things), communication skills (how we express ourselves) and functional skills (managing everyday tasks like having a bath, shopping, driving etc)

Between 750,000 to 820,000 people in the UK have dementia. Anyone can get it, although it is more common after age 65 and the likelihood of having dementia rises to one in five for people aged over 80 years.

Although most people with dementia are older, dementia is not part of normal ageing and not all older people get it. People in their 40s and 50s can also have dementia and women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than men. An estimated 15,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK have dementia.

There are many different types of dementia and each has its own causes. The most common forms of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Vascular dementia: this is the second most common form of dementia, resulting from problems of circulation of blood to the brain which causes brain cells to die. It may be associated with strokes, mini-strokes (TIA's) or high blood pressure.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: In this condition people will experience physical changes such as stiffness, shakiness and slowing as well as changes to memory and thinking. It is also common for people to experience visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there)
  • Fronto-temporal dementia (FTD): this results from damage to brain cells which are localised to the front portions of the brain. This results in changes to personality and behavior or loss of language skills known as progressive aphasia

How do we know it's happening?

The early signs may not be immediately obvious. Common symptoms include gradually worsening memory especially for recent events, greater difficulties grasping new ideas and learning new information and people feeling uneasy or confused in new surroundings. Others will notice personality changes, slowness or loss of ability in performing everyday tasks such as for example taking a shower, dressing, cooking, shopping or becoming withdrawn and apathetic.

The team assessing the person with these symptoms will check for the presence of depression or other medical conditions such as low vitamin levels, poor thyroid function or other chemical imbalances in the blood. These should be treated before it is concluded that there is a diagnosis of dementia. Some people require reassessment after treatment.

What we offer

Most forms of dementia cannot be cured but research is continuing into developing medications, vaccines and other treatments. Medications have been developed which can alleviate some of the symptoms of some of the types of dementia.

It is not clear if dementia can be prevented but a healthy diet and lifestyle may help in protecting against Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

AWP offers a range of services for people with dementia and their families. Consultant old age psychiatrists can diagnose dementia by arranging memory tests and investigations like a CT scan of the brain. A consultant will also explain in detail the diagnosis of an individual and the help the service can offer. The specialist memory team can help with early planning which can make it much easier for a person with dementia, their family and carer's to manage their financial and legal affairs.

The specialist memory team can signpost different services available for people diagnosed with dementia, their families and carer's. These include specialised dementia services, health and home support services.

There may be times when a person with dementia needs to come into a hospital bed for assessment and treatment. AWP also offers inpatient services in its various sites in Bristol, Swindon, Trowbridge and Salisbury.

Looking after someone with dementia can be difficult. We can offer carer's assessment and guide the carer's to the various supports they can get in terms of short periods of respite.

Contact

Anyone with concerns about dementia should contact their GP so they can guide them through this process and refer if necessary to hospital specialists.

AWP have teams at Callington Road Hospital in Bristol, Cedar House, Blackberry Hill Hospital, Fishponds and Victoria Centre in Swindon.

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