Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain and leads to serious impairment of cognitive function (memory loss, poor coordination, emotional instability etc.). In this guide I will explore how it affects those living with it and how we can best care for them. I'll share facts, useful resources and best practice as well as explaining how our adjustable beds, mattresses and chairs are a big help in managing dementia.
Dementia in brief
Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses degenerative diseases of the brain. Dementia itself is not a disease, but rather the symptoms/result of a disease. There are over 500 diseases that are some form of dementia, I will look at the five most common later on in this guide.
Those with dementia experience a decline in mental ability and are likely to have some, if not all, of the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty performing routine tasks
- Difficulty speaking clearly
- Frequent emotional changes
- Visual impairment
- Loss of interest in socialising
- Inability to recognise familiar faces
- Weakness and loss of mobility
Who dementia affects
In the UK alone, between 600,000 and 850,000 people are affected by dementia, though about 43% of people are undiagnosed. Current estimations predict that this figure could rise to over 1 million people in the UK by 2025. 1 in 14 people over 65 will develop dementia and 1 in 6 people over 80. Whilst dementia is more common in people over 65, it is not age-limited. Anyone who has developed dementia before age 65 is said to have young or early onset dementia.
Causes/types of dementia
Dementia is caused when damage to brain cells occurs. The damage causes the cells to have difficulty communicating with each other and they are no longer able to carry out their normal functions. The symptoms of this damage is what we call dementia and their are a number of possible cuases including disease, vitamin deficiency and injuries. Some damage can be reversed, depending on the cause and if proper treatment is administered. Here are the five most common causes/types of dementia:
60% of all dementia cases are the result of Alzheimer's Disease making it by far the most common type. It is a disease that progressively gets worse over time and there is not yet any cure.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, but there is some knowledge. What is known is that there are two types of protein that (for reasons unknown) begin to act differently. They become plaque and tangles. The plaque is toxic to brain cells, and kills them. The tangles are formed from proteins that generally aid in brain cell communication. When they “tangle” they form clumps that lead to the deaths of all affected brain cells.
Alzheimer’s develops slowly. Changes in the brain may appear 10 years before symptoms show. Alzheimer’s does not discriminate and anyone can develop it, but there are some key risk factors:
- Age: Nearly all cases are found in the over 65s.
- Genetics: Alzheimer’s can be passed down through genes.
- Gender: Women are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s than men.
- Health: Poor health and mistreated diseases such as Diabetes and heart disease can increase chances.
- Lifestyle: Smoking, eating fried foods, alcohol and lack of exercise are all risk factors.
Research suggests that 1 in 3 cases of Alzheimer’s can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding the risk factors that you can. Exercising and eating healthy will keep you physically fit, and puzzles or reading will keep your mind excercised.
The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is also another umbrella term. It includes any symptoms that occur when brain function is altered due to reduced blood, oxygen and nutrient flow to the brain. This can include strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Anything that increases your risk of developing heart disease also increases the risk of vascular dementia.
Often, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are both present. Similar to Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia can develop gradually with symptoms developing over time and brain function steadily decreasing. It can also occur suddenly when it is caused by a stroke.
Dementia with Lewy bodies
This type of dementia involves tiny abnormal structures (Lewy bodies) forming inside brain cells. They disrupt the chemistry of the brain and lead to the death of brain cells. Early symptoms can include alertness that varies over the course of the day, hallucinations, and difficulties judging distances. A person’s day-to-day memory is usually affected less than in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia with Lewy bodies is closely related to Parkinson’s disease and often has some of the same symptoms, including difficulty with movement.
In frontotemporal dementia, the front and side parts of the brain are damaged. Clumps of abnormal proteins form inside brain cells, causing them to die. At first, changes in personality and behaviour may be the most obvious signs. Depending on which areas of the brain are damaged, the person may have difficulties with fluent speech or forget the meaning of words.
This is when someone has more than one type of dementia, and a mixture of the symptoms of those types. It is common for someone to have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia together.
Treatment and management tips vary depending on the type of dementia. Alzheimer’s has no cure and no treatments slow its progression whereas dementia caused by vitamin deficiency can be reversed through consistent and proper vitamin regulation. However, where there is no cure as in most cases, the most you can do is ease symptoms. Some actions that can help are:
- Socialise - minimising isolation will reduce cognitive decline.
- Stay organised - avoiding confusion will aid clearer thinking.
- Follow a routine - consistency boosts confidence.
- Do activities - the likes of reading and puzzle solving stimulates the brain.
- Encourage independence - perfroming tasks alone for as long as possible minimises decline.
- Signpost - make notes and prompts to counteract memory loss.
Here are three frequently asked questions relating to dementia:
Does dementia get worse at night?
Sundowning is a real symptom which causes some people with dementia to experience worsened symptoms at night.
How long does a person have to live with dementia?
Though the average is 10 years after diagnosis, this can differ based on treatment, type of dementia, and general health.
Why does dementia cause death?
Dementia does not directly cause death but some of the symptoms, such as weakness, can lead to increased chances of infection or other, deadly, illnesses.
How our adjustable beds, mattresses and chairs help
As dementia progresses, the damage to brain cells will lead to coordination difficulty, physical decline and possible visual impairment. An electric adjustable bed will be a big help in manging these symptoms and will help a person with dementia to stay indpendent for longer. A static-height adjustable divan bed will be perfect for comfort when in bed and support getting in and out of bed. In the latter stages of dementia when care needs become advanced, you may need to consider a height adjustable nursing bed that will facilitate carers.
Pressure relief mattresses
Dementia can lead to restricted mobility, particularly for those over 80. With physical ability reduced, more time will be spent in bed and it is essential that the support/lying surface offers adequate protection and comfort for sustained periods in bed. A mattress that prevents the build up of pressure and ultimately pressure/bed sores is a wise purchase and far more cost effective than having to treat developed sores in the future. Incontinence can also occur from dementia so a wipe-clean cover is sensible. View our pressure relief mattress.
Riser recliner chairs
Remaining independent helps to stimulate the senses and discourages cognitive decline A chair that helps you to stand will ensure you remain comfortable and independent for as long as possible. View electric riser recliner chairs.
For more information or resources in the UK, please refer to the following websites:
This site is a comprehensive source of information for all things dementia, including information about all the different causes. Options are offered for whether you’d like to give or receive help. Visit dementiauk.org
Alzheimer’s Society is a UK charity that campaigns for change, funds research to find a cure and supports people living with dementia today. Visit alzheimers.org.uk.
Dementia Friends is an excellent resource for people who want to volunteer working with people who have dementia. Visit dementiafriends.org.uk.
Age UK is a great resource for people who want to deeply research the causes, symptoms, and outward effects of dementia. Visit ageuk.org/dementia.
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