what is dementia?
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What is dementia? And how to spot the warning signs

9 min read |

What is dementia? This is a complex question as dementia is a multi-faceted illness.

Sadly though, dementia is more prevalent than ever because of our growing elderly population, so it's important to understand the facts.

This blog will explain what dementia is, plus help you understand some of the early warning signs for dementia so you know how to respond to them.

  • Dementia is a catch-all term for a number of conditions that include memory loss, speech difficulty and an overall decline in cognitive faculties. 
  • While age is the biggest risk factor and cause of dementia, there are a number of lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of developing dementia.
  •  Memory loss, personality changes and a decline in cognitive ability can all be early symptoms of dementia.
  • Home decoration, music and technology can all play an important role in ensuring that people living with dementia can maintain independence.
when should someone with dementia go into a care home

What is dementia?

Dementia is a catch-all term for a number of conditions that include memory loss, speech difficulty and an overall decline in cognitive faculties. 

These conditions can appear on their own, such as Alzheimers, or come as a result of another medical event such as a stroke. 

These conditions cause cognitive impairment which can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities as well as thinking and speaking. 

Ageing is a completely normal process, however it is important that you are able to spot any abnormal symptoms or events in someone you love.

There’s more here on the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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Early signs of dementia free guide

Types of dementia

The most common form is Alzheimer’s disease which, according to the Alzheimer’s Association  makes up 60-80% of dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, which will worsen over time. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to cure it.

This makes it all the more important for you to adapt to the new situation by making things as comfortable as possible. 

Vascular Dementia

The second most common form is Vascular dementia.

This is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain as a result of other conditions, such as a stroke.

Less blood flow means that the brain is deprived of oxygen. In turn this can cause various types of cognitive impairment such as confusion or difficulty walking. 

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia is a progressive condition, similar to Parkinson’s Disease.

It affects motor control which leads to poor movement, tremors and increased risk of falls.

It can induce Alzheimer’s like symptoms that affect cognitive faculties such as memory, but not always.

Hallucinations are more common in people with Lewy body Dementia. 

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Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the name for a group of progressive conditions affecting the frontal or temporal lobes.

Behavioural Variant FTD

Behavioural Variant FTD is characterized by significant behavioural changes in judgement as well as emotion and relationships.

It can affect people at any time of life, but often presents around 50 – 60 years. 

Primary Progressive aphasia

Primary Progressive aphasia is the second major type of FTD. It affects the ability to communicate and, at its most severe, can cause a total loss of speech.

types of dementia

Causes of dementia

The causes of a condition depend on which type of dementia someone is diagnosed with. 

Age is the biggest risk factor and cause of dementia. However, there are some lifestyle factors which can increase risk.

Although, making changes early can help reduce this risk, as well as promote a healthier lifestyle. 

Diet

Eating a balanced diet with reduced fat and sugar intake as well as plenty of water keeps both mind and body healthy. 

Alcohol intake

Reducing alcohol intake is advisable at any age. Sustained or excessive alcohol use can damage your nervous system.

In turn that can increase risk of heart disease and stroke, which can be catalyst events for dementia onset. 

Exercise

Exercise should be a staple for everyone. Walking, aerobics, pilates, gardening or swimming are all brilliant exercises for older people.

Exercise produces endorphins that make us feel good which can keep the mind sharp and able for longer. 

Mental Wellbeing

People who have suffered with anxiety or depression, especially in older age may find themselves withdrawing from the community.

Untreated mental illness can increase the risk of developing dementia. 

Having had a stroke or suffering a brain injury can also be a risk factor when it comes to dementia. 

Are you worried about a loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

checking for signs of dementia

How to spot the warning signs

Ageing can be difficult at the best of times. There are lots of age related changes that are perfectly normal but which can be misinterpreted as signs of dementia. 

However, it is important to know what to do if you notice something abnormal. What are the early signs of dementia?

Dementia doesn’t necessarily have any visual bodily symptoms. However, there are a number of psychological as well as behavioural symptoms that people with dementia may exhibit. 

Memory

Dementia is not simply forgetting things every now and again. It can cause memory loss which affects everyday situations, quality of life and relationships.

Not knowing the date or even what year it is can be a tell tale sign of memory loss. Additionally, people with the illness struggle to remember things that have just happened, and may unknowingly be repeating themselves. 

However, it is often the case that long term memory remains clear. Some people with dementia are still able to talk about their childhood or other things in the past. 

Misplacing items is common and can be distressing. This can also lead to irritation and other behavioral changes. 

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Changes to personality

Dementia is an unwanted interruption into anyone’s life. It brings with it different emotions and causes tensions to run high.

You may notice that someone you love seems to be behaving differently. They may experience mood swings as well as becoming increasingly irritable. 

Dementia often causes a loss of interest in hobbies and other leisure activities such as socialising, which can be disorienting and tiring. 

Disorientation

People with dementia may feel confused, lost or out of place. This can happen on occasions such as leaving the house. When out in an unfamiliar space people with dementia may not know how they got there or why they’re there. 

It can also happen within the home and even affect being able to distinguish between day and night. 

Thinking skills

Most things we do require some level of thinking, even if we take it for granted. Whether it’s cooking, chatting, following instructions or making decisions, dementia can inhibit the ability to do it. 

It can be hard to make sense of a situation, conversation or idea which can lead to people feeling detached from people and things that they love.  

This can also affect activities such as having a conversation or reading. Trying to focus on tasks like this can leave people with dementia feeling confused and distracted. 

Find out more about what is outpacing in dementia?

Worried about your loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

older person care home

What to do if you’re worried about someone you care for

As with many health conditions, it is always preferable to catch them early. 

Dementia can present itself through a number of symptoms which can be similar to those which come naturally with age. 

However if you notice any unusual changes to their behaviour, or are worried, book an appointment with your local GP. 

A medical professional will be able to provide information such as a diagnosis through performing tests. 

Testing for dementia can include brain scans and blood tests. Mental ability like memory and communication is also tested. 

 

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How to support someone with dementia 

A dementia diagnosis is a life changing event with its own unique challenges. Each one needs its own type of dementia care.

As the disease affects people both physically and mentally there are a number of things you can do to make adjusting a little easier. 

Home Decoration

Ageing sometimes means spending more time at home. So it makes sense that home should be as comfortable, accessible and easy as possible. 

However, many older people face interior challenges such as out of date decor, deteriorating furniture and impractical set ups. 

This can have a negative impact on people with dementia, especially as the condition worsens.

This being it is possible to make homes more dementia friendly with the use of technology and simple redecorating ideas. 

  • Keep patterns on wallpaper, carpets and soft furnishings minimal
  • Remove trip hazards such as rugs or cables
  • Source good lighting 
  • Label drawers to show contents 
  • Comfortable seating
  • Dementia friendly technology
  • Photos to trigger happy memories
dementia care for parent

Technology

Having dementia supportive technology can be a massive asset to anyone living with dementia.

It can provide assistance for people who are worried about keeping memory active through to emergency action in the event of a fall. 

For keeping an active mind

Digital clocks that display the full date and time can be reassuring and help maintain a sense of independence.

A tablet with apps is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. It is bigger and less fiddly than a smartphone and can be used for activities such as reading, drawing, games, diary and communication. 

Medication reminders are programmed to send alerts so that the right medication is taken at the right time. 

Worried about your loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

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For peace of mind

An activity monitor tracks a person’s daily movements and routine and feeds back to a carer or family members.

Fall detectors are small devices in the home that will alert an emergency response team. 

Bed sensors are activated when someone gets out of bed and doesn’t return within a certain time period.

This is a good option for those worried about having a fall, or who are at risk of wandering off and getting confused, especially at night. 

Environment sensors can be used in a kitchen and detect any abnormal changes to the environment. If the gas is left on, or a fire breaks out, they will send an emergency alert. 

In addition, it is always a good idea to check that safety detectors such as smoke alarms are working. 

dementia and music

Music

Studies into the relationship between music and dementia have shown some positive results. 

The journal of Aging and Society published a report on Music and the wellbeing of people with dementia (2007). It found that:

‘As well as being enjoyed in its own right, music can enable people to participate in activities that are enjoyable and personally meaningful.’ 

In addition, many people with dementia also remember singing and dancing to old songs. They might even remember the words or be able to relate memories of the music. 

It is clear that music for dementia can play a huge role in the lives of people with dementia and their families and friends. 

Make the time to listen

When supporting someone with dementia you should facilitate listening to music, especially if using an electronic device. 

Older people may not have access to technology, or know how to use it. This makes it all the more important to make time for music sessions using your phone or computer.

However, if you have access to CD’s, tapes or vinyl, the physical process of playing music through these is really valuable too. 

Arrange a time to listen to and talk about music from their past, as it can be a really beneficial and meaningful activity. 

There are many ways you can support a loved one, before you find yourself asking ‘when should someone with dementia go into a care home‘?

People can stay in the homes they love for longer with extra support.

Find trusted, quality home care

If you’re looking for home care for a loved one then Sweet Pea can help you find trusted home care.

Just enter your loved one’s care requirements into our platform and we’ll do all the hard work for you.

Within seconds you’ll get access to a shortlist of quality carers in your local area that match your needs.