We regularly see people in the surgery who are concerned about memory loss and whether this is a sign that they are developing dementia. Many people call dementia ‘Alzheimers’ and this is the commonest form of dementia, however dementia can have multiple causes as detailed below.
In this piece we will provide some information on this disease as well as some useful links for dementia suffers, carers and their families.
What is Dementia?
Most of us probably associate dementia with memory loss, and this is certainly valid, however it has many other associations too. Dementia primarily affects your cognition which refers to memory, learning, perception and problem solving.
How common is dementia & who gets it?
Dementia affects about 2% of those aged over 70 and about 6% of those over the age of 75.
Men and women are equally affected and it occasionally runs in families. Most of the time there is no obvious reason for the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. Dementia is commoner in some conditions such as:
- After a stroke
- In those who suffer with Parkinson’s or other rarer neurological conditions such as Huntington’s
- Untreated underactive thyroid or low B12
- Rarer infections such as syphillis, vCJD
What are the symptoms of dementia?
It can be difficult sometimes to spot some forms of dementia in the early stages and it may take a few visits to your doctor to gather an accurate history of the illness. Symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Problems word or name finding
- Changes in mood or behaviour
- Difficulty reading or following conversations
- Repeating stories or questions
- Losing interest in hobbies or pastimes
- Becoming reclusive or acting inappropriately
What should I do if I think a loved one or I have dementia?
All of our team are trained in spotting the early signs of this disease and if you are concerned about your memory or about the memory of a loved one, make sure to get in touch with us. Usually we will do some gentle mental testing and will order bloods for you to ensure that there is not another cause for memory loss or confusion such as infection, an underactive thyroid, anaemia or diabetes amongst others.
Depending on the results of these tests we will usually refer you to see a medicine for the elderly specialist who can order scans, link you into community programmes and clinics and help in the multidisciplinary treatment and management of dementia.
What treatments are out there for Dementia sufferers?
Dementia is treated and managed in a variety of ways. Medications can help in some cases and these are usually initiated by a consultant. Other non-pharmacological treatments have been shown to help, such as music, massage, art, dancing, watching old videos or films and generally an immersion in things that are a happy association for people.
Most people with dementia can be managed in their own home to a varying degree. Sometimes carers, people to help with meals, physiotherapists, occupational therapists are involved and other community structures such as respite centres help.
Inevitably some will need nursing home care and it is important to think about making provisions for this or at least talking about it with your partner and family. It is very helpful to make decisions on your care whilst your thinking is clear so that you can decide on how you would like your hospital care to proceed.
Is there any way to reduce my risk of developing dementia?
Yes, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia:
- Don’t smoke
- Manage your cholesterol levels or diabetes or high blood pressure
- Don’t drink to excess
- Keep your weight down
- Be active!
Are there any resources people should be aware of?
- Alzheimer Ireland has an excellent website with lots of useful resources
- The Irish Hospice Foundation have a great resource worth reading about for making plans for when you are unable to make decisions for yourself
- There is further useful reading here on this NHS based website
If you are worried that you or a loved one may be suffering with Dementia, please get in touch with us here in the clinic. We can see you, answer questions, arrange tests, specialist referral and in some cases reassure you. Just call us on 01-8461335 or 01-8038881, e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org or check our website for regular updates on www.portmarnockgpclinic.ie.
This post was by Dr Niall