What is dementia?
Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain. The word dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms which may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, language, as well as mobility and sensory challenges. Without support it can be very isolating and lonely but there is much that can be done to help people live as well as possible with dementia.
Quotes we have taken from people living with dementia helps us to see the world through their eyes:
‘There is a lot of stigma around it, tremendous! I cried buckets and buckets. Not for me but for my children. My main concern was for my family. But with support I have found a way to become positive. Now I embrace every day. You can do things but in a different way or by finding a different route. We laugh about things, that helps.'
‘There are times when I feel disconnected from people, and that makes me feel cut off and alone. It can be very frightening. But it really helps when people take the time to communicate in a way that I feel comfortable with. Makes all the difference.'
Dementia is progressive which means the symptoms will gradually get worse. The changes are often small to begin with, but become more evident over time. Like lots of conditions, the incidence of dementia increases with age, but it is not a natural part of ageing.
Not everyone who grows old will develop dementia and not everyone who develops dementia is old. People as young as 30 have been diagnosed. People with dementia whose symptoms start before they are 65 are described as having young-onset dementia.
There are more than 100 different types of dementia with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, then vascular dementia. Some people may present with a combination of types. You can read more about this here.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way - from the cause, to the symptoms to the progression. Symptoms of dementia can include:
- Difficulty remembering recent events
- Forgetting messages or appointments
- Confusion with time and place
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Repeating the same words
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks
- Misplacing things around the house and putting items in unusual places
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Confusion in unfamiliar environments
- Restlessness or disorientation
- Difficulty knowing the value of money, and handling money
- Changes in mood and personality and unusual emotional behaviour or response
- Neglect of personal care and safety
- Changes in taste, hearing, smell, touch and vision
- Hallucinations – seeing things that aren’t there
Maintaining independence and confidence is vital to sustaining a good quality of life for both the person with dementia and their carers. It is important that this is acknowledged and addressed particularly at the early stages of dementia, so that people can just get on with their everyday lives.
People who live with dementia want to continue to live life to the full for as long as possible – thriving, growing, learning and being active within and contributing to their communities. They do not want their life defined by dementia.
There is a good deal of advice about how it is never too early or too late to take steps to reduce your risk of dementia - you can read Welsh Government's advice about this here.