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We explain the symptoms of dementia, as well as how it’s identified and treated, and what a diagnosis may mean for you.
What is dementia?
is a serious memory problem that causes an ongoing decline of mental ability along with other symptoms. It is not a disease, but a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) and each person’s case presents differently.
Most incidences of dementia are due to Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies. These disorders affect the part of the brain that controls thought processes.
How common is dementia?
The Alzheimer’s Society estimates there are around 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. One-third of people over 65 will develop dementia, with women accounting for two-thirds of those affected. As our life expectancy continues to increase, so will the prevalence of dementia.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
The symptoms of dementia tend to change and increase over time. Symptoms of dementia include memory loss as well as difficulty with thinking, language and problem-solving.
Symptoms vary depending on the individual, but can commonly include:
- Memory loss – for example of recent events, or misplacing or losing objects
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty in comprehension and understanding
- Difficulty speaking and writing
- Repetitive questioning
- Poor judgement
- Disorientation to time
- Decreased social interaction and withdrawal
- Mood changes, including anxiety and worry, irritability and frustration
- Difficulty with day to day tasks, such as cooking or shopping
What to do if you think you may have dementia
If you think you might have dementia, it’s important to see your GP or a specialist as soon as possible. You may then be given treatment to slow its progression, reduce the symptoms and maintain mental function. Getting the right treatment and support in place early on can help you manage the condition and live a full, active life. And it can also give friends and family more time to adjust and prepare for changes in the future.
Some symptoms associated with dementia can be caused by other conditions, such as stress, depression, anxiety and drug side effects. So it’s worth seeing a doctor, as they may be able to tell you that you don’t have dementia, and treat the cause of your symptoms.
How is dementia assessed?
When you see your GP, they will ask you about symptoms and your general health, and they will perform a physical examination. Your doctor will also ask you about any medication you’re taking and organise a blood test. This is to determine if your symptoms could be caused by anything else.
You will then have some psychological or cognitive testing, measuring your memory and clarity of thought – typically through mental exercises. If your condition isn’t clear, you may be referred to a specialist, who will likely organise a brain scan, such as a CT scan or an MRI scan.
Getting your results
If your tests determine that you do have dementia, the doctor should explain how this might impact you and, if you’re happy for them to do so, they will also speak to your family and provide them with more information.
The doctor should explain the type of dementia you have and any further tests they want to conduct. They will also explain the symptoms that you’ll encounter and, importantly, the treatment you can receive. Your doctor should also provide you with information about local care and support services, support groups and voluntary organisations, and how you can find legal and financial guidance.
Dementia is usually treated with medication. This won’t cure the syndrome, but will slow down its progression and help reduce the symptoms.
Your treatment may also include memory training, memory management or psychological therapy to help with the depression and anxiety. Most NHS Trusts have Memory Clinics, which will provide ongoing medical and psychological treatment and support.
Accessing the right treatment and support can help reduce the impact of dementia and help you lead a full, active life.
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