The Different Faces of Dementia
The term 'dementia' is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases and conditions, such as memory loss.
What is important to understand is that there are various different types of dementia. Usually, people associate the term 'dementia' with Alzheimer's disease. Whilst this is the most common cause of dementia, it is not the only one. Learning about different types of dementia is important because each one has its own set of characteristics.
Types of dementia include:
• Alzheimer's disease
• Vascular dementia
• Dementia with Lewy bodies
• Fronto-temporal dementia
• Korsakoff's syndrome
• Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
• HIV-related cognitive impairment
• Mild cognitive impairment
There are also rarer forms of dementia such as supranuclear palsy and Binswanger's disease. The Alzheimer's Society publishes information about the various types of dementia on its website.
For the purposes of this article, we will explore two main types of dementia: Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Alzheimer's disease affects around 465,000 people in the UK. [Figures from the Alzheimer's Society]. It is a physical disease that affects the brain. The disease sees 'plaques' and 'tangles' develop in the structure of the brain. These plaques and tangles kill off brain cells. People suffering with the disease are also affected by a shortage of important chemicals in their brains. These chemicals help to transmit messages around the brain. Without them, these messages cannot be delivered.
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that damages more and more parts of the brain as time goes on. As this happens, so the symptoms become more severe. For example, people in the early stages of Alzheimer's experience short memory lapses, perhaps struggling to find the right words for things. As the disease develops, sufferers will forget words - along with the names of people and places - as a matter of course. Understandably, this is both frustrating and frightening, and accordingly Alzheimer's sufferers may experience mood swings as the disease takes hold.
Individuals who are living with dementia will ultimately require round-the-clock care and will need to find a care solution where they can benefit from dedicated care and support from expertly trained care providers. This may be a residential care home or a live in care service from a home care company.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. It is caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain as a result of damage to a network of blood vessels in the organ called the vascular system. A damaged vascular system will not allow blood to reach the brain, which kills off brain cells - and this can lead to vascular dementia.
A number of conditions can incur damage to the vascular system including high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol and diabetes. If these conditions are spotted early enough, they can be managed and as a result present less of a threat to the vascular system. Vascular dementia can also be brought on by a stroke.
Symptoms include forgetfulness, restlessness, confusion and aggression.
Individuals who are living with dementia need support. Family and friends have an important role to play, and as the condition advances the patient will often need some form of professional care. A live in carer who is trained in dementia care can provide both practical assistance and the emotional support and care that is needed when living with dementia. A live in carer also enables the person living with dementia to remain at home, which is greatly advantageous from the point of view of providing continuity of care in familiar surroundings promoting a sense of calm and overall wellbeing.
Laura Luckett works for The Good Care Group, a professional provider of high quality live-in care services that enables elderly people to stay safely and happily in their own home for as long as possible, maintaining independence and dignity.