Humanity has never been more aware of the importance of health awareness, and the average person in the street could probably converse at some length about at least one health issue. Most of us could speak with relative confidence about cancer, depression, or in the present day, Coronavirus. One issue that is more shrouded in uncertainty – although some of the mist is falling away – is the matter of dementia. Figures show that it’s a particularly prevalent condition, particularly for more elderly patients; so maybe it’s something we should all know a little more about…
How common is dementia?
The older we get, the more likely we are to experience dementia; for example, it is estimated that more than 1 in 3 people over the age of 85 may have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is not the only cause of dementia, but is certainly by far the most common cause of age-related cases. So, while dementia is not by any means an inevitable result of ageing, it gets more common the older we get.
What causes dementia?
That’s an excellent question; as of this moment, we know plenty about the mechanics of dementia without being sure about the triggers. Dementia results from damage to nerve cells in the brain. In the case of Alzheimer’s, this usually results from a lack of oxygen to parts of the brain. Risk factors, aside from age, include heredity, Down syndrome, diabetes and a range of others. Lifestyle factors, including alcohol use and smoking, may also play a part.
Can I take a test for dementia?
There is no 100% reliable test for dementia in the early stages, and it is not something that you can confidently predict. As noted, it is believed to be somewhat hereditary but this does not mean that you will certainly develop it if one or even both of your parents have. Living as healthily as you can, and attending regular medical check-ups, are your best defences.
How do I help someone with dementia?
The most important thing you can do for someone with the condition is be present and be patient. As symptoms progress, often patients don’t really consider that they are ill; this can make them vulnerable, and sadly dementia patients are among the most at risk from patient abuse, something that becomes much less likely if they have an advocate around to talk to. Providing them with something of an anchor, whether it be conversation, or an activity (board games, chess and reading can be beneficial in the early stages) is also helpful.
Is there any cure for dementia?
No; simply, it’s not something that can be cured – it’s a progressive condition. Its impacts can be delayed, though. Medication, diet, routine and other treatments can prolong the quality of life and the clarity of thought in a patient who might otherwise speedily deteriorate. Research continues, and we can all hope for breakthroughs. For the time being, though, it’s a condition we seek to manage rather than proactively treat.