What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe various different brain disorders that lead to loss of brain function. There are over 100 different types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. These are caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain and, as these nerve cells cannot be replaced, the symptoms get progressively worse as more cells are destroyed.
Dementia can affect young people as well as older people; it is described as ‘early onset’ or ‘young onset‘ dementia and can affect people as young as 35 years old. Click here to see the Alzheimer Society factsheet.
Symptoms of Dementia
Each person will experience dementia in his or her own individual way, but there will usually be:
- A decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills
- A gradual loss of the skills needed to carry out daily activities
However these symptoms may have nothing to do with dementia; the person you care for may have another illness which is producing similar symptoms. Only by getting a diagnosis will you know what you are dealing with and what help is available to you.
How to get a Diagnosis
The GP is the first person to consult if you are concerned about someone close to you. The GP will carry out an initial assessment, usually in the home, and this will include conversations with the person being diagnosed and members of their family, a physical examination, and memory and thinking tests.
If necessary the GP will then make a referral to a specialist. You are entitled to ask for a referral to a specialist for a second opinion or for support and access to services that such a referral may give. Press for a referral if you feel it would be helpful and the GP does not suggest it.
Currently there is no medical test to determine a diagnosis of dementia and as there could be a number of conditions causing the behaviour a process of elimination will take place before a diagnosis is made.
After the Diagnosis
A diagnosis of dementia can come as a shock. Even if you have been expecting it, this will be a worrying and upsetting time. You and the person you care for will need a great deal of reassurance and support.
Few forms of dementia are curable, but there are some drugs available that appear to alleviate the symptoms in some people. Different conditions respond to treatments and medication in different ways.
Once a diagnosis has been confirmed accessing services and support can make a great difference for both the Carer and the person with the dementia. Your first step should be to contact your local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society for advice, information and support: Milton Keynes branch – 01908 261750.
The Alzheimer’s Society national web site has a huge range of useful information for Carers, as well as a discussion forum where people can share information and experiences. They also have a helpline: 0845 300 0336.
Caring for people with frontotemporal dementia is hard, there are few facilities tailored for the younger sufferer and those are not always appropriate for people with frontotemporal dementia. Also there are no specific treatments yet for frontotemporal dementia. All this adds to the distress, isolation and burden of caring. The PDSG tries to decrease the burden by providing information and support.
The Pick’s Disease Support Group includes:
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies
- Frontotemporal Dementia including:
Frontal Lobe Degeneration, Pick’s Disease and Primary Progressive Aphasia
- Alcohol Related Dementia
- Corticobasal Degeneration