As part of our ongoing series on Dementia, we would like to talk about some facts and figures around the different types of dementia and what causes them. There are a number of variations of the disease, Dementia is a general term used to describe the range of symptoms, the most common are:
- Alzheimer’s disease – This is the most commonly diagnosed form, which is caused by abnormalities developing in the brain which causes brain cells die faster than they usually would as a person grows older.
- Vascular Dementia – The second most common diagnosis, this occurs when there is insufficient blood flow getting to a person’s brain. Reduced blood circulation can damage cells anywhere in the body but the brain is particularly vulnerable. As Vascular Dementia can affect other areas of the brain so each person may have different symptoms.
- Frontal Lobe Dementia (FLD) – FLD is more closely associated with behavioural changes than memory loss although it can still happen. People can become more withdrawn or aggressive than before.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) – In these cases, tiny abnormal deposits occur inside the brain. This usually results on symptoms very similar to Alzheimer’s disease but the condition also often leads to a person experiencing hallucinations.
Although there is no cure yet, the latest research has identified a molecule that can help to delay the accumulation of certain toxins in the body, or reduce their effect. The toxin is a type of protein that is thought to be linked with inflammation in the brain, a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease. This promising scientific research is the subject of a new study with eagerly awaited results. However, even if successful, any new treatment or medication may well take time to become widely available. All the same, its possible success would be good news – if it were possible to delay symptoms by five years, deaths due to the disease could be reduced by over 30,000 a year.
Diagnosis and Statistics
Dementia is a progressive condition and is more pronounced than the normal thought or memory impairment that often occurs as part of the ageing process. It may produce confusion or distress and sometimes language problems, with the symptoms slowly becoming more noticeable over time. It is thought that by the end of this year (2015), there will be around 850,000 older people suffering from the illness within the UK. Additionally, approximately 40,000 younger people also have symptoms, so the current total number of patients is just fewer than 900,000 – alarmingly close to a million. Of this total, only 25,000 are from minority ethnic groups. This suggests that the disease occurs mainly (but not only) in Caucasians’. It has been predicted that this total will exceed one million within the next decade.
Broken down by gender, Dementia is more common in women (about two thirds of cases) than in men, possibly due to women having a longer life expectancy. A link is also thought to exist with the medical conditions of diabetes and depression, both of which increase the probability of memory impairment becoming worse. Nonetheless, the primary link is with age; the proportion of the population diagnosed with symptoms of dementia doubles with the passing of each five years. People who are between 80 and 89 years old have a much higher chance, with one person in six thought to be affected after reaching their eightieth birthday.
Moving to patient diagnosis, less than half (only 44 per cent) of people with dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have received a formal medical confirmation of their condition. To some extent, this may be due to logistical problems and visits to distant hospitals and specialists, especially for elderly patients in remote areas of the country. It may also be a result of infirmity or even non cooperation or resistance by the person concerned, as they do not wish to lose their independence. Additionally, in some cases the symptoms themselves are transient, as they come and go in their degree of severity.
Diagnosis is a clinical one, based on doctors’ and specialist opinions. Currently, the only certain laboratory test to prove diagnosis is to take a sample or cross-section of brain tissue during a post-mortem. Nonetheless, geriatric specialists have made a lot of progress over recent years in identifying the typical signs. In DLB for example, there are often minor or significant symptoms relating to movement of parts of the body. This is in addition to the classic memory and cognitive problems more typically associated with Alzheimer’s or the vascular type, the latter of which can occur relatively suddenly – for instance, after a stroke.
Of patients with formal diagnoses, two thirds live relatively independently in the community, often with family or home care support. Some of these have sheltered accommodation with assistance of a Care worker who is on hand, while the remaining third live in residential homes. Looking at all the residents in care homes, as many as four out of five suffer from either dementia or severe memory impairment.
There are in the order of 670,000 nursing staff and family members who are registered within the UK as carers of dementia patients. However, the true total including ‘hidden carers’, is probably a great deal higher than this.
Although there is currently no cure, it is thought that tone of the best ways to reduce the risk of symptoms is to follow a Mediterranean diet, rich in oily fish, vegetables and fruit. Physical activity and not smoking also help, along with regular blood pressure checks.