If you are worried about your own health or that of someone you know, find out more about the symptoms to watch for.
What is dementia?
Not a disease itself, dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by damage to the brain. All of the conditions that cause the symptoms are progressive, meaning that the brain becomes more damaged over time, leading to more severe symptoms.
Early signs of a problem are often mild and the progression can be very gradual, so it is often the case that sufferers themselves, and those around them, are unaware that the symptoms they are experiencing are those of dementia. The speed of the decline also varies greatly from person to person, depending on their overall health and circumstances. Furthermore, some people develop more than one condition at the same time.
Alzheimer's and other causes of dementia share a number of common symptoms. Memory loss, especially short-term memory, forgetting names and messages, and repeating the same questions, is often one of the earliest signs. Some begin having difficulty with numbers or money, or struggle to find the right words, while changes in personality or mood may also point to the onset of a condition. Depression, confusion in unfamiliar surroundings and an increasing problem carrying out tasks or activities that require organisation are other symptoms common to many forms of dementia.
There are, however, differing symptoms that are distinctive to particular forms of dementia.
Vascular dementia can develop gradually over months or years, or can come on quite suddenly and very rapidly progress. Sufferers may experience stroke-like symptoms like muscle weakness or paralysis on one side of the body.
Lewy bodies, which shares many of the symptoms of Alzheimer's, typically causes periods of alertness and drowsiness, varying levels of confusion, a slowing down of physical movements, and visual hallucinations.
The early symptoms of frontotemporal dementia often involve changes in personality and behaviour. The person may suddenly appear cold and insensitive, or they may lose their inhibitions, acting out of character. Problems with language is also a sign of this condition.
As dementia progresses, the existing symptoms can become more pronounced while new symptoms may appear. When the condition is at an advanced stage, memory usually declines to the point where the patient may not recognise loved ones, remember where they live or know where they are.
Communication also becomes increasingly difficult, with some losing the ability to speak altogether. Friends and relatives are often encouraged to try other means of communication, via touch, expression or gesture. Similarly, many people lose their appetite, so it is important that help is at hand at mealtimes to ensure they are eating enough.
Some also find their mobility gradually declining, and incontinence is common in the later stages of dementia.
If you or someone you know is displaying any of the early symptoms of dementia, do visit a GP. There is plenty of help available for both sufferers and carers, so get the support you need by getting a diagnosis early.
Have you witnessed the progression of dementia? How did you cope? Let us know below...