10 things to know about dementia — the illness Olu Jacobs is battling
There is often a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia, which results in stigmatisation and barriers to diagnosis and care for victims.
Without further ado, here are 10 things to know about dementia.
DEMENTIA IS NOT A SINGULAR DISEASE
Dementia is not a disease on its own but a general name used to describe a group of symptoms affecting one’s ability to process thought, which is severe enough to interfere with your daily life.
There are different forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for a majority of cases, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, mixed dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.
The severity of symptoms differs from person to person, beginning from the mildest stage — when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning — to the most severe stage when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of living.
DEMENTIA IS MORE THAN JUST MEMORY LOSS
When most people hear the word dementia, the first thing that comes to mind is memory loss, but dementia is not just about memory loss. It can also affect people in a variety of ways such as the way they think, learn, speak, perceive things, feel and behave.
Some of the symptoms asides from general memory loss include:
Changes in behaviour
Confusion and disorientation
Delusions and hallucinations
Problems judging speeds and distances
Problems with balance and movement
Difficulty in comprehension of things that are seen
Difficulty in performing basic tasks like getting dressed
Dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that is damaged, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms.
When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior, and feelings can be affected.
For many people, the biggest risk factors of dementia are aging and a family history of dementia. Other factors include heavy alcohol intake, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking.
HOW COMMON IS DEMENTIA?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 55 million people worldwide have dementia, with over 60% living in low and middle-income countries. The organisation said the number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050 as the proportion of older people is increasing in almost every country.
IS DEMENTIA A NORMAL PART OF AGING?
Although dementia is more common as people grow older, it is not a normal part of aging so not everyone will experience dementia as they grow older. Older persons generally experience some age-related memory changes such as forgetting recent events and occasionally misplacing car keys, but many will live their entire lives without developing dementia. The difference between normal aging and dementia is that someone with the former may misplace their car keys but someone with dementia can forget what car keys are used for.
IS DEMENTIA A MENTAL ILLNESS?
No, dementia is not a mental illness but a brain condition. People with dementia may exhibit similar traits as those with mental illness, but they are not classified as the same. Since dementia is a brain condition and our brain is our control centre, those with dementia will have problems with actions, including remembering, speaking, understanding, and learning new skills.
HOW CAN HAVING DEMENTIA BE PREVENTED?
While there is no way to absolutely prevent the development of dementia, avoiding risk factors has been associated with a decrease in the possibility of developing dementia. Maintaining optimal health, including normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol, and normal blood sugars can make a difference in dementia risk. Staying physically active, avoiding tobacco use or excessive alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and preventing head injuries are also recommended.
CAN YOUNGER PEOPLE DEVELOP DEMENTIA TOO?
Yes. Some people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s can also develop dementia, but this is rare. When people under 65 have dementia, it is called young-onset dementia or early-onset dementia. The chance of developing dementia between 30 and 59 for men is 0.16 percent while for women, it is 0.09 percent.
CAN DEMENTIA LEAD TO DEATH?
Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases. People with dementia can die from conditions arising from symptoms. People with late-stage dementia are vulnerable to infections like urinary tract infections (UTI) due to not being able to make it to the bathroom. It is difficult to detect a UTI in a person with dementia as they may have lost their ability to communicate. The infection can then spread, causing sepsis, which can be fatal.
Also, many people who have late-stage dementia may also die from aspiration pneumonia, a type of pneumonia caused by the accidental inhalation of food or fluid into the lungs and infection from not being able to move which can lead to sepsis and subsequently, death.
IS THERE A CURE FOR DEMENTIA?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dementia. While treatment options for dementia are also limited, there are medications available to try to reduce the symptoms, but they do not cure the person. Physical exercise has been shown to be of some benefit in helping to maintain cognition. Staying engaged and participating in social events may also be of some help.