Forgetfulness may not automatically be a sign of dementia. But even if it is, an early diagnosis can result in patients being able to enjoy a rich, long and rewarding life.
Around 850,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with dementia and while it is not an automatic consequence of aging; your chances of developing it are greater if you are over 65.
Memory loss can however have other roots, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency which can cause lack of energy and problems with understanding and judgement. Delirium, which can be caused by infection, also mimics dementia in that it causes confusion and (temporary) memory loss.
If these symptoms do suggest dementia though, your GP’s next step will be to discover exactly what form of the disease you have. “Dementia” is an umbrella term describing a degenerative failure in the brain functions and there are around 100 forms of the condition – including Lewy Body and Frontotemporal Dementia.
The most famous is Alzheimer’s which is typified by anxiousness, forgetfulness and even depression. Unlike Vascular Dementia which is caused by a lack of blood-flow to the brain and can be accompanied by strokes, Alzheimer’s progression may be slow.
Whether it is dementia or not, the most important thing to do is to get an early diagnosis. Whilst there is no cure for dementia and speculation still surrounds its causes (I am sure you have read recent report suggesting heading a football can result in brain damage and dementia), medication can now significantly slow the development of dementia down.
An accurate prognosis also allows us to tell you about the superb support available. Memory Services up and down the country are able to offer medical assessments on your condition, give support so that people can remain independent and live well with dementia, and disseminate details of organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society who offer considerable expertise – www.alzheimers.org.uk
Locally, from the specialised Oasis Unit at our hospital with its reminiscence materials to the Memory Assessment and Treatment Service provided by the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust see http://bit.ly/2mlFKMZ – our region is doing much to ensure that people with dementia are supported and valued.
But while early diagnosis is the key to coping with dementia, curing it will only come through better medical research. If you can, why not support charities dedicated to searching for a solution? It is also worth knowing that the fledgling findings into the causes of dementia point to poor diet and lack of exercise – which is something we can all solve!
Finally, I would ask that we as individuals remember that when we are in a queue at the supermarket for example, that some of those around us may be living with dementia – and they need our patience, support and understanding.