DEMENTIA affects 850,000 people across the UK – a figure which is expected to rise to over one million in the next five years.
Dame Barbara Windsor, who died from Alzheimer’s at the age of 83, raised awareness for the disease – but is there a difference? Here we explain…
What is dementia and are there different types?
Dementia is a general term used to describe the deterioration of a person’s mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with their daily life.
It is known for the problems it causes with thinking, reasoning and memory – as these are the areas in the brain that become damaged.
There are two main groups dementia can be split into:
- Cortical, which causes severe memory loss like that seen in Alzheimer’s,
- Sub-cortical, which affects thinking speed and activity as seen with Parkinson’s disease.
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common forms and they both cause problems with memory.
Both are rare in those under 65 years old.
Other common forms of dementia are Frontotemporal dementia, mostly diagnosed in those under 65 years old, and dementia with Lewy bodies, where nerve damage gradually gets worse over time causing slowed movement.
Scientists recently discovered a new form of dementia that has often been mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
They say it is part of the reason why finding a cure to dementia has failed so far.
What is vascular dementia and what causes it?
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia in the UK after Alzheimer’s disease, where the brain is damaged due to a lack of blood flow.
If the vascular system within the brain becomes damaged – so that the blood vessels leak or become blocked – then blood cannot reach the brain cells and they will eventually die.
This death of brain cells can cause problems with memory, thinking or reasoning, and when these cognitive problems are bad enough to impact on daily life, it is known as vascular dementia.
There are several different types of vascular dementia, due to the varying levels of damage on the affected part of the brain.
They include stroke-related dementia, single-infarct and multi-infarct dementia, subcortical vascular dementia and mixed dementia – which includes both vascular and Alzheimer’s disease.
Is alcoholism related to dementia?
A new study has revealed that drinking may be related to dementia.
French scientists say that those who drink three pints a day are more than three times likelier to develop early-onset dementia than those who don’t drink.
The researchers spent six years studying 57,000 patients who’d been diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65, and found 57 per cent had been heavy drinkers.
Eighteen per cent of dementia sufferers included in the study were problem drinkers.
What are the stages of dementia?
Many cases of dementia start with early warning signs.
This early stage is known as cognitive impairment and can be barely noticeable or mistaken for something else, such as depression.
These include slight:
- slowness of thought
- difficulty with planning
- trouble with language
- problems with attention and concentration
- mood or behavioural changes
These symptoms can indicate that some brain damage has already occurred and treatment needs to be started immediately before symptoms get worse and are more difficult to treat.
Changes often happen in sudden steps, with relatively stable periods in between, although it’s difficult to predict when these steps will happen – so acting fast is the key.
As well as the symptoms listed above, further possible signs can include feeling disorientated and confused, memory loss and difficulty concentrating, struggling to find the right words and severe personality changes – including becoming aggressive, finding it difficult to walk, struggling to control urination and seeing things that aren’t there.
The signs for early Alzheimer’s are similar including losing items frequently, forgetting conversations or events and getting lost on familiar journeys.
Did Barbara Windsor die from Alzheimer’s?
Dame Barbara Windsor was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 and made the news public in 2018.
The 4ft 10in star died “peacefully” at 8.35pm on Thursday night at a London care home with her husband Scott Mitchell by her side.
In a moving tribute, he called her his “precious Bar” and said: “I’ve lost my wife, my best friend and soul mate.”
He said the cherished actress’s final weeks were “typical of how she lived her life” and “full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end”.
Mr Mitchell told PA: “Her passing was from Alzheimer’s/dementia and Barbara eventually died peacefully and I spent the last seven days by her side.
“It was not the ending that Barbara or anyone else living with this very cruel disease deserve.
“I will always be immensely proud of Barbara’s courage, dignity and generosity dealing with her own illness and still trying to help others by raising awareness for as long as she could.”
Mr Mitchell, who alongside his wife campaigned for greater dementia care from the Government, added: “Dementia/Alzheimer’s remains the UK’s number one killer.
“Although in challenging times, I urge the Prime Minister, his government and other parties to be true to their previous promises and invest more into dementia/Alzheimer’s research and care.
“Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and carers who are angels at the care home for your kindness and care to Barbara and I throughout her stay with you. You are my heroes.
“And my gratitude to our family, friends and everyone in the media and the general public for all the good wishes and warm support that has been shown to Barbara over the last few years during her illness. Barbara deeply appreciated that.”
How is dementia treated?
There is no specific treatment for dementia and no way to reverse the damage to the brain that has already occurred.
However, treatment may help slow down the progression of the condition and the main aim is to treat the underlying cause to help prevent further problems, such as strokes.
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Medicines and lifestyle changes will be encouraged including eating healthily, losing weight if necessary, stop smoking, get fit and cutting down on alcohol.
Support such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy is also beneficial, but despite treatment dementia can significantly shorten life expectancy.
The average survival time from diagnosis is around four years and most people will die either from complications of dementia, such as pneumonia, or from a subsequent stroke.