Cheat Sheet

Dementia For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

From Dementia For Dummies - UK, UK Edition

By Simon Atkins

Dementia is not simply a medical word for becoming forgetful; there’s much more to it than that. But once you have identified the symptoms and their potential causes, you can access the best available help.

What Is Dementia?

Contrary to what many people think, dementia is not a single disease in itself, but the medical term used to describe the progressive and irreversible effects that a number of different diseases have on a person’s brain and the way in which it functions.

Dementia affects both men and women and becomes more common with advancing age, although 2 percent of people who develop dementia are under the age of 65.

The symptoms affect three main areas of people’s lives:

  • Thought processes, such as memory, language, and ability to plan

  • Emotions, leading to changes such as irritability and aggression in some people, withdrawal and lack of speech in others, and maybe sexual disinhibition and depression

  • The ability to carry out the normal activities of daily life, from driving and holding down a job in the early stages, to washing, dressing, and even feeding themselves as the condition becomes worse

So just having a few senior moments and becoming a bit more forgetful doesn’t mean that someone has dementia; he may just be becoming older and more forgetful. For a doctor to make the diagnosis, a person needs to have problems in each of the three areas.

The Top 5 Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia can reveal itself through multiple symptoms and is sometimes difficult to diagnose. Following are the top five symptoms that point toward a diagnosis of dementia:

  • Memory problems: This is probably the most well-known but least understood of all of the symptoms of dementia, mainly because although everyone becomes forgetful, this doesn’t mean everyone has dementia. The crucial issue here is whether failing memory affects the way someone is able to carry out tasks every day. If it does, then it is certainly significant.

  • Difficulty solving problems and planning: In the early stages of dementia, people lose the ability to perform tasks that may need planning or involve having to work out what to do next. So, for example, they’re not able to pack effectively for a holiday or trip and may become confused at the petrol pump when filling the car with fuel.

  • Trouble finding the right word when talking or writing: Again, this happens to everyonefrom time to time. You are mid-sentence, and the next word you’re looking for completely eludes you. In early dementia, this word-finding difficulty becomes more and more frequent, and people often forget names of people and objects they’re trying to describe.

  • Getting lost and losing things: People with dementia increasingly forget where they left something, from their car keys to the car itself, and aren’t able to retrace their steps to work out where they’ve left the thing. Familiar journeys also become a mystery, and so people themselves often become lost, too.

  • Different emotions: Another early change occurs in a person’s mood, emotions, and personality. Mountains may become molehills more often than ever before, people may become either withdrawn or more aggressive and inpatient with things, and sexual disinhibition is also more common.

Causes of Dementia

Four main diseases cause dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, named after the person who discovered it; vascular dementia, called after the part of the brain that’s damaged (the blood vessels); fronto-temporal dementia, named after the areas of the brain affected; and Lewy body disease, called after the protein deposits seen in the brains of sufferers when looked at under the microscope.

Despite the different causes, the symptoms are largely the same, although each disease has its own special features that differentiate it from the other three.

Percentage of Total Cases of Dementia Special Features
Alzheimer’s disease 62 Abnormal protein structures called plaques and tangles are
found in the brain cells.
Vascular dementia 17 Caused by damage to the blood vessels bringing oxygen to brain
cells. Twenty-five percent of people who have strokes are likely to
develop vascular dementia.
Fronto-temporal dementia 2 Affects two parts of the brain called the frontal lobe and the
temporal lobe. Very likely to cause changes in a person’s
personality.
Lewy body disease 4 Lewy bodies, named after the person who first described seeing
them, are spherical protein deposits in brain cells. This condition
shares a number of features of Parkinson’s disease, and
sufferers often have poor mobility and experience visual
hallucinations.

Drug Treatments for Dementia

Sadly, no cure exists for this condition, but a handful of medicines has been developed to help slow its progress. The drug treatments initially were designed specifically to help people with Alzheimer’s disease, but some specialists use them in people with a mixture of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

The following table shows the four available drugs, the method of taking them, and the most common side effects to look out for.

Name Method of Taking Most Common Side Effects
Donepezil (Aricept) Ordinary tablets
Melt-in-the-mouth tablets
Upset stomach, headaches, agitation, hallucinations, fatigue,
insomnia, giddiness
Galantamine (Reminyl) Ordinary tablets
Slow-release tablets
Liquid
Upset stomach, indigestion, poor appetite, weight loss,
headache, dizziness, hallucinations, high blood pressure and slow
pulse
Rivastigmine (Exelon) Capsules
Liquid
Patches
Upset stomach, poor appetite, weight loss, headache, dizziness,
drowsiness, nervousness, tremor, confusion, insomnia, slow pulse,
symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Memantine (Ebixa) Ordinary tablets
Liquid
Constipation, raised blood pressure, headache, dizziness,
drowsiness, shortness of breath