Memory loss is usually the first thing people think of when you mention Dementia, but actually, it's an extremely complex disease which affects people differently, and can impact on literally dozens of areas of life. Yes, a lot of people suffer with memory loss (usually starting with more recent memory), but other common symptoms include problems with speech (dysphasia), mobility (balance and co-ordination), and spatial awareness. Dementia can affect a person's ability to make decisions; understand what's real/now and what's pretend/a memory; control their emotions; and understand the consequences of their actions.
There are different types of Dementia.
Dementia is a bit of a catch-all phrase which describes the symptoms of a number of diseases. The most common form is Alzheimer's Disease, but Dementia may also be Vascular (following a stroke or brain injury). Other types include Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and Fronto-Temporal Dementia. Each type tends to present slightly differently, although there is a lot of overlap and it's ultimately very difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.
Yes, the majority of people with Dementia fall into the 65+ age category, but around 5% of sufferers have what is known as Early-Onset Dementia - this includes anyone whose symptoms started before the age of 65. Early-Onset Dementia can affect people as young as their 40s; a family friend of ours was diagnosed in her mid-40s. Younger people with Dementia face a whole different set of challenges - these are often working adults who become unable to work or properly take care of themselves, which has a whole lot of social stigma attached.
This means it gets worse as time goes on; the idea of a little old lady who forgets about her cup of tea until it goes cold and insists on calling you Mabel might seem endearing, but ultimately, Dementia will kill her - that's the cold hard truth of the matter. The disease literally destroys brain tissue until there isn't enough left to function. Having worked with people with extremely advanced Dementia, I think it's fair to say that toward the end the person isn't really there anymore for the most part; it's heart-breaking to see someone become a shell of what they were.
There are drugs available for Dementia which may slow down its progression, but as yet, there's no cure. There are also lifestyle changes that people with symptoms or a diagnosis are encouraged to make, such as eating more healthily, cutting down on alcohol, and getting regular exercise - but again, this won't cure the disease. Some of the people I work with have lived active lives up to the age of 90+, eat well and didn't drink, and yet still ended up with Dementia.
I know I've painted a fairly bleak picture here and I'm sorry for that - but this is the reality of Dementia. However, there are often several years of mild symptoms before a diagnosis is made, and several more years following diagnosis before the impact of the Disease is overwhelming. People can and do live well with Dementia for a number of years.
Barchester Healthcare have a really helpful guide available which is designed to help people choose the right care home for their loved ones with Dementia; I know from experience that moving a loved one into a care home is a stressful experience for all concerned - and my top tip would be to give it time, don't expect your relative to settle in overnight. Some people take to it like the proverbial duck to water, whilst others take a good few weeks to get used to the change and "find their feet" in the new environment.
Do you have any experience of Dementia in your family or amongst your friends? Do you know much about the disease?
[*Sponsored post. I was planning to write this anyway but the opportunity came up so it'd have been silly to turn it down!]