Dementia is one of the most frequent chronic diseases that is growing, due to the greater life expectancy of the general population. According to the report “Social impact of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias” of the Brain Foundation of the Spanish Neurology Society (SEN), between 4% and 9% of the population over 65 years of age has some type of dementia, and these percentages grow between 31% and 54% when they are over 90 years old.
Currently, in Spain, there are between 500,000 and 600,000 people with dementia, but it is estimated that by 2050 that figure will reach one million, that is, one in three Spaniards. They are overwhelming numbers and what people usually think is: will it be my turn?
Although it is a term that can be scary, with an active attitude we can lead a healthier life and be better prepared.
WHAT IS MEANT BY DEMENTIA?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is a syndrome that involves the deterioration of memory, intellect, behavior, and the ability to perform daily activities, that is, there is a progressive loss of the ability to think, remember, and reason. Although it mainly affects older people, it is not necessarily a normal consequence of aging.
The WHO estimates that in the world there are about 50 million people with dementia, and each year about 10 million new cases are registered. There are several types of dementia, in order of frequency, the most common are:
- Disease Alzheimer’s: the most common form of dementia (between 60% and 70% of cases), which is characterized by cognitive impairment (progressive memory loss and intellectual capacities in general), behavioral disturbances, and loss of personal autonomy.
- Vascular dementia: is the loss of intellectual function caused by damage to the cerebral blood vessels, usually caused by a cerebrovascular accident or stroke.
- Lewy body dementia: It is caused by the abnormal accumulation of a type of protein in brain cells. The main clinical characteristics of this type of dementia are mental deterioration, parkinsonism of variable intensity, psychotic features such as visual hallucinations, and fluctuations in cognitive status that especially affect attention and concentration. It is one of the most common progressive dementias.
- Frontotemporal dementia: it is characterized by the deterioration of neurons in the frontal and temporal lobe areas of the brain, which are areas related to personality, behavior, and language.
- Dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease: it appears in approximately 30% of Parkinson’s patients, and it predominates in the deterioration of attention (it is difficult for them to concentrate), of the skills to process visual information (difficulties to orient oneself in the space, calculating distances, walking without stumbling) and executive functions, which can manifest itself in difficulties regulating behavior and establishing, for example, a plan for the day and following it.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?
The cause of dementia is the deterioration of brain cells, which lose the ability to communicate with each other, causing reasoning and behavior problems. There are risk factors that contribute to the development of dementia:
- Age: increases the possibility of suffering from dementia after 65 years.
- Family history: If you have relatives with dementia, the chances of suffering from it increase.
- Down syndrome: In adulthood, many people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s.
- Mild cognitive impairment occurs when there is memory loss, but without other symptoms.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I OR SOMEONE CLOSE TO ME HAS DEMENTIA?
People with dementia may have short-term memory deficiencies and forget situations (locating the car, paying a bill, attending a meeting, etc.)
The truth is that dementias are usually progressive over time, so if you notice cognitive difficulties, you must consult a specialist. An early diagnosis can help you to more effective treatment and better plan for the future. There are ten signs that, according to the International Alzheimer’s Association, can warn of dementia:
- Memory changes make everyday life difficult.
- Difficulty planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty performing common tasks at home, at work, or in your free time.
- Disorientation in time or a place.
- Difficulty understanding visual images and how objects relate to one another in space.
- Problems with the use of words when speaking or writing.
- Placing objects out of place and not remembering where they have been left.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Loss of initiative to take part in work or social activities.
- Mood or personality changes
Confirming the diagnosis of these types of diseases is a complex task. The signs of dementia can vary, but at least two of the following mental functions must be affected to consider being suspicious:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
The next step is to visit the neurologist, to assess mental abilities, perform diagnostic tests such as computed tomography, an MRI, blood tests, and specific psychological tests.
AND NOW WHAT DO I DO?
If you already know that you have some type of dementia, then it is time to treat it. You should know that dementia has no cure, you can only manage the symptoms with medications and therapies.
- Medicines: help fight symptoms and improve cognitive functions.
- Mental health: painting, crafts, cooking, or puzzle games, improves cognitive ability.
- Exercise: it will improve your strength and balance.
- Occupational therapy: the idea is to prevent falls and accidents, and to create a safer home environment, organizing your home so that you can feel more comfortable.
- Alternative therapies: music therapy, for example, can help boost mood.
It must be taken into account that dementia affects oneself and the family environment, so it is important to be informed about the subject.